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Commons Chamber

Volume 893: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1975

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 17th June 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time upon Tuesday next.

London Transport Bill

Read the Third time and passed.

Eastbourne Harbour Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered upon Tuesday next.

Brookwood Cemetery Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Tuesday next.

Greater London Council (Money) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [1st May].

That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to reduce the total sum of £868,648,000 on page 9 of the Schedule by £83,000 000 by:

(1) reducing the sums mentioned in Item 10 of Part I of the Schedule (Page 6) as follows:

  • (a) in column 3, by leaving out "£187,700,000" and inserting "£137,700,000" and
  • (b) in column 4 by leaving out "£86,350,000" and inserting "£61,350,000"; and
  • (2) reducing the sums mentioned in Item 25 in Part III of the Schedule (Page 9) as follows:

  • (a) in column 2, by leaving out "£60,000,000" and "£64,000,000" and inserting "£56,000,000 and "£60,000,000", and
  • (b) in column 3, by leaving out "£30,000,000" and "£32,000,000" and inserting "£26,000,000" and "£28,000,000".—[Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg.]
  • Debate further adjourned till Tuesday next.

    Fraserburgh Harbour Order Confirmation Bill

    Order for consideration read.

    To be considered upon Tuesday next.

    Oral Answers To Questions

    Education And Science

    School Milk


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will now consider the reintroduction of free school milk for children from 8 to 11 years of age; and if he will make a statement.


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will now introduce legislation to restore free school milk for children from 8 to 11 years of age.

    Future policy on school milk is still under consideration.

    Recalling the opposition of the Labour Party, and particularly that of the Under-Secretary, to the Education (Milk) Act 1971, remembering that the Government's reasons for not revoking that Act are financial ones, and recalling equally that the reason for introducing the Act in the first place was to save Government finance——

    Will the Under-Secretary tell us what has happened between 1971 and now to change what we were then told was a matter of principle for Labour Members into a matter of policy?

    I well recall my words when the Conservatives withdrew free school milk. I in no way retract anything I said about that decision. I am not in a position to make an announcement at present, because the matter is still under consideration. For the hon. Gentleman's information, it would cost approximately £8 million a year to restore the free milk to those from whom it was withdrawn at the time the Conservatives were in office.

    Does my hon. Friend not agree that it would be desirable to restore free school milk? Will she take this opportunity to repudiate any suggestion that the Government may seek to end the powers whereby some local authorities have been able to get round the policy of the previous Government and supply free milk?

    I agree with my hon. Friend that it is desirable that free milk should be made available to children, as it was in the past. As the matter is still under consideration I shall bear in mind the point he has raised when we examine the whole question of school milk.

    May I be the first male Member to welcome the hon. Lady to her present position? Even in these days when women are equal a little courtesy is agreeable. Does the hon. Lady recall that when the Education (Milk) Bill was going through the House—I speak as the junior Minister who took the Bill through—she was deeply engaged in the question of school milk? May I, therefore, assume that her answer means that if the Government decide that free milk should not be reintroduced, she would clearly not feel it possible to remain in her present post?

    Considering the courtesy with which the hon. Gentleman welcomed me back, and as I believe in equality, I thank him and wish to be courteous in return—but I think he wants me out of my job a little early. I remember clearly what I said, and I in no way retract it. We are in financial difficulties. The whole matter is under review and I cannot this afternoon make any commitment about my future or the future of school milk.

    Primary School Pupils


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what advice he will issue to local education authorities on the need to ensure that pupils attending differing primary schools all have an equal chance of basic educational advance.

    Maintained primary schools are non-selective, and to that extent already offer equal opportunities for education. What they teach and how they teach it are matters to be decided locally.

    The Minister said that maintained primary schools are nonselective and equal, but that they all teach differently. This could be misunderstood by a parent who knows that the standards of primary schools differ tremendously in the same area. If there is divisiveness, according to which school a child is directed to in the bureaucratic bingo of the State education system, and if we are to have equality, will not Her Majesty's Inspectorate have to enforce a minimum basic curriculum and basic standards in all primary schools?

    I did not say "equality"; I said "equal opportunities". [An HON. MEMBER: "They are the same thing."] With respect, they are not. In primary schools it is important to bear in mind that the curriculum must be as varied as possible to cater for the differences of emotional development, aptitude and skills of children. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no legal power to determine the curriculum of teaching methods in schools—a fact of which I should have thought the hon. Gentleman was aware. I defend strongly the principle of variation in primary schools, which, as an ex-teacher, I believe is essential.

    Does my hon. Friend accept that we on the Government side of the House still believe in equal opportunity for children wherever they are, but does she also accept that if that principle involved children in primary schools in the repetitive examination system, as the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) recently suggested, it would be rejected not only by Labour Members but by the vast majority of parents?

    Is the Minister aware that many heads of secondary schools are becoming increasingly perturbed that whilst so many children going on to them from primary schools usually have a very good knowledge of music, movement and murals, they have only the most nodding acquaintance with the three Rs? Does this not mean that the curricula of the primary schools should be looked at again?

    I hope that within the next few weeks I shall have an opportunity to meet many heads, when I can discuss with them what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I believe that very often when we try to establish the principle that all children must reach a certain standard by a certain age we tend to judge learning in rather unfortunate ways, and do not take account of variations. The Bullock Committee, which examined the question of reading in particular, pointed out that the big problem was not within the schools, but that there was still strong evidence that children from socially deprived backgrounds suffered most, and that this could be related not so much to the schools as to their backgrounds.

    Does my hon. Friend agree with me that standards in the primary schools—and I was teaching just over a year ago—[Interruption.] I am obviously still teaching. Does my hon. Friend agree that conditions in our primary schools are the pride of the education system almost throughout the world, and that the Bullock Report vindicated the standards of reading in our schools and pointed out, knowledgeably, where the difficulties lay and said that they had been grappled with? Does my hon. Friend also agree that to be constantly knocking the education system and not facing the facts of that system is most unhelpful at a time of economic stringency?

    I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend said. He has the great advantage of having taught very recently in the State system of education, and he therefore brings to the House a wealth of information on education questions.

    University Teachers (Pay)


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the real value in percentage terms, after allowing for threshold payments, of his offer to university teachers to take effect from October 1975.


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a further statement on the results of arbitration on university teachers' pay.

    The board of arbitration on the pay of university non-clinical teachers gave its decision on 2nd June. The decision will result, with effect from 1st October 1975, in an overall increase of 24·6 per cent. in the scales in payment since 1st October 1974, or 21·3 per cent., excluding threshhold payments in payment before that date.

    While welcoming this advance and readjustment for university teachers, may I congratulate the Secretary of State and his predecessor on having taken up the policy of the Opposition, that the matter should be referred to arbitration? May I also hope that the adjustment in the cost of living which is due to take place this autumn may be achieved with speed?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is the intention to get the cost-of-living adjustments settled as soon as possible, and the negotiations are now being held.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, however, that a great deal of unnecessary damage was done as a result of not going to arbitration earlier? Does he also accept that a whole series of measures that the Government have taken, or failed to take, regarding universities have caused a great demoralisation in the university sector? Instead of the noble Lord the Minister of State going round full of his half-baked ideas softening up the universities for further cuts and economies, may we not have a full-scale inquiry into the whole of higher education? It is 12 years since the Robbins Report.

    I do not think that that supplementary question arises directly from the Question. I entirely repudiate what the hon. Gentleman said about the activities of my noble Friend. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends must understand, when they preach at us day after day about the need for the most dramatic and fantastic cuts in public expenditure, that if we have to curtail public expenditure, although we shall not adopt all their proposals, the cuts will affect every sector of public education. Therefore, it is no use making great speeches opposing my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then complaining that, necessarily, we shall not be able to spend as much money on this and that project as they would like.

    Local Authority Expenditure


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to ensure that local authorities do not cut back on existing educational provisions without his direct authority.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative-controlled authorities such as Bradford propose to cut the number of teachers by as many as 240 this year, which will mean larger classes and the virtual ending of remedial education? Does he realise that it is very sad for us to see him standing idly by while this happens? Will he assure Labour Members that he will fiercely resist any Treasury attempt to cut the central Government grant for education expenditure next year, and that he will make sure that local authorities spend education money where it counts—on education?

    In the rate support grant settlement for the current year adequate allowance was made for education, in the Government's opinion, and there should not be cuts of the size to which my hon. Friend has referred.

    The proposition in my hon. Friend's Question would totally change the pattern of the relationship between local and central government, which has been a characteristic of education from its earliest days. One could not lightly entertain that.

    Is not the truth of the matter that if the Government are serious about restraining public expenditure there must be such cuts not only in the future, but now?

    I do not accept that. Some cuts have already been announced by my predecessor and by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I do not see the case for a further announcement today.

    In an earlier reply, my right hon. Friend talked about the relationship between central and local government. Is he not aware that there are wide regional variations in the cuts being made? Whatever my right hon. Friend may say about the rate support grant, some local authorities are taking advantage of the situation to make bigger cuts than would be justified as a result of the rate support grant negotiations.

    I share my hon. Friend's concern about the matter. The Government have offered guidance to local authorities about their current expenditure and will continue to offer guidance. But I could not undertake, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) asked, to make it conditional that the authorities should do nothing without my prior approval, because I do not have such powers and to seek them would be entirely to change the pattern of the relationship in education between central and local government.

    I should like to begin by congratulating the Secretary of State and the Minister on their appointments.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman do his utmost to impose on the local education authorities an understanding of the importance of both pre-school and adult education? On every previous occasion when there has been any sign of a cutback, those two sectors have suffered. It is extremely important that there be confidence in adult education, which can be achieved only by a guarantee of continued support.

    I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his kind personal remarks about my hon. Friend and myself.

    As my hon. Friend is known to take a special interest in pre-school education—a passionate interest, if I may say so—and as my own background derives much from adult education, we shall certainly not be unsympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says, but after five days in office I am not in a position to begin laying down general propositions of the kind the hon. Gentleman invited me to make.

    School Transport


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when his Department will take a decision on the report of the Working Party on School Transport; and if he will make a statement.


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is now in a position to make a statement on future policy regarding travel concessions for schoolchildren.

    School transport is among the many matters I am considering. My aim is to put to the local authority associations proposals for new school transport arrangements. These would take into account many of the features of the working party's recommendations.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that the main recommendation of the working party, namely, that parents should have a right to ask local education committees for transportation and that transportation should be provided at a flat rate, decided nationally, would remove the great sense of injustice felt by many parents either because they live outside the three-mile limit or because of the differing fare policies of various branches of the National Bus Company? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to present his conclusions and recommendations on this subject before October, which will be the second anniversary of the publication of the working party's report?

    I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I shall certainly try to meet the target he set. In my previous post in the Government, as Minister for Transport I was at the receiving end of some of the complaints about the difficulties to which he referred when I went round the country. I am not unaware of the problem and I agree that something along the lines he suggests might be a way of approaching the difficulties. As I say, we are anxious to discuss the arrangements with the local authority associations as soon as we can.

    Will the Secretary of State be a little less coy about what he is suggesting? Will his suggestions do away with the arbitrary distinction based on the two- and three-mile limits? Is he aware that that distinction is causing even more trouble now because of the much higher bus fares which children just within the limit are being required to pay?

    I ask the hon. Gentleman to be a little patient. These are difficulties which we shall seek to eradicate, but in view of the present economic climate I do not think that anyone should expect us to change the system in a way that will add substantially to the cost. Our problem is to achieve a better system at the same cost for the local education authorities.

    I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend and his colleague on their new appointments. I realise that my right hon. Friend has been in his new appointment for only a few days and one would not expect him to have taken immediate action. This difficulty causes great concern to parents of two or more children, who find it exceedingly difficult to meet the cost of the increased bus fares, and it is leading to truancy and a loss of education for the children. Will my right hon. Friend give this problem his immediate consideration?

    I understand the difficulties, but the House will understand that before any proposals are proceeded with it is essential for us to have discussions with the local authority associations. The local authorities will have to administer the scheme and it is important that they should have the opportunity of giving us the benefit of their advice.

    Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the effect that the present rules have on the recruitment of workers in rural areas, especially in agriculture and forestry? Will he also bear in mind the special plight of children who may have to walk through rain or snow for two or three miles to catch a bus and then have to sit wet and, perhaps, cold in the bus until they reach school?

    Yes. It was problems of that kind that gave rise to the setting up of the working party, and we are concerned to try to improve the situation.

    May I, from the Opposition Front Bench, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his elevation?

    The hon. Gentleman should not assume anything where manners are concerned. May I express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will prove as moderate in practice as his predecessor was in theory? Is it not extraordinary that after nearly two years we have not had so much as a peep from the Department of Education and Science on the question where the Government stand on the issue of school transport, which is of intense interest to millions of parents? Will the new Secretary of State tell the House today whether he accepts the principle of the Hodges Report that the important thing is to provide a transport service, and that if they were guaranteed that service parents would be willing to contribute to it according to their means?

    I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his kind personal references, but I do not go along with his rather graphic description of the contribution made by my predecessor. I personally pay tribute to what my predecessor did in this sphere. As for dealing urgently with the transport problem, because of my previous appointment I am very sensitive to the need to get on with it, but at the same time I have to take account of local authority views and the financial situation. Within the five days that I have been in office I have tried to look at many matters, but I shall deal with this one as soon as I can.

    Schools And Universities (Liaison)


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is satisfied with the present arrangements for liaison between schools and universities.

    There is close and systematic contact between university bodies and those representing the schools, but I am always ready to look at suggestions for improving present arrangements.

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that such liaison in Scotland is made more difficult by the fact that the schools and universities are dealt with by different Government Departments? Will my right hon. Friend comment on recent suggestions that better liaison could exist between schools, universities and Scottish colleges of further education if governmental responsibility for implementing a fully comprehensive system of Scottish education, whether at school or at post-school level, were included in the devolution plans?

    It is a little too early to come to any final and firm conclusions on my hon. Friend's proposition. Because of the valuable interchange of students between Scottish, Welsh and English universities, I should need a lot of persuading before accepting that it would be desirable to have separate university systems.

    In considering any proposals on the future of Scottish universities, will the right hon. Gentleman take account of the near-unanimous view of the Scottish universities that they wish to continue to operate under his Department?

    Will the Secretary of State accept that there is a desperate need for a link between secondary and tertiary levels of education in Scotland? I accept that the right hon. Gentleman has had other responsibilities in the past few years, but is he aware how much first-year courses at Scottish universities militate against Scottish students? For example, does he know that in 1973–74 at St. Andrew's University 30 per cent. of first-year Scottish students failed that course, whereas only 4 per cent. of the GCE-qualified students failed it? The system needs urgent revision, so that Scottish students do not suffer from that situation.

    The organisation of schools in Scotland is not within my responsibility. If I were to seek to take a close interest in them, the first people to complain would be the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the concern that has been expressed, and if, through the University Grants Committee and the Vice-Chancellors Committee—both of which have special links with the schools—it is possible to improve the arrangements—nothing is perfect—we shall be anxious and willing to consider any positive suggestions.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that the additional tier of education has been interposing itself between the schools and universities? Is he aware that there are about 50 sixth form colleges now in existence, and that this is a major educational innovation, with considerable implications? Will my right hon. Friend prepare a report on the working of the sixth form colleges and have it published as soon as possible?

    I think that it would be rather a tall order to prepare a report of that kind. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion, but it is really much more a question of the way in which comprehensive education is organised within certain areas.

    Adult Literacy


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he intends to announce a second year's allocation for adult literacy, to follow his initial allocation of £1 million in July 1974.

    The allocation last July was authorised with no commitment to further grants of this kind, and much of it still remains to be distributed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will be keeping the progress of this scheme under review, in relation to the continuing effort to promote adult literacy, our economic circumstances and other educational priorities.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that the regional programme which was started last year began in response to a specific Labour Party commitment in our manifesto to help the disadvantaged student, whether he be an adult or a child? Does my right hon. Friend agree that having started this scheme, and having aroused a great deal of enthusiasm in many parts of the country, it would be an absolute scandal if it were strangled at birth? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the people working in the field are given some assurance that further money will be available?

    As my hon. Friend knows, the scheme is administered by the Adult Literacy Resource Agency. I understand that so far it has allocated £368,000 among 58 local education authorities and 19 other organisations. Therefore, there is quite a lot of the £1 million still left to be allocated before the scheme reaches its limit. However, I shall strongly bear in mind the views that my hon. Friend has put forward.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the British Broadcasting Corporation's important project to spend £800,000 of its own money over three years on programmes to stimulate the interests of illiterates and to encourage them to take lessons? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the BBC's charter prevents it from spending approximately £144,000, the sum which is required for ancillary work in connection with these programmes, including a telephone referral programme? Will the right hon. Gentleman take an interest in this project and consider whether part of the money available could be directed in the area to which I have referred?

    I am not informed about that difficulty, but I shall look into it. It may be one of the ways in which the money could be spent.

    Further Education (Advisory Councils)


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, in view of the increasing responsibilities of the regional advisory councils for further education, he will take steps to ensure that all regional advisory councils for further education include representatives of recognised teacher organisations in colleges, in their councils, standing committees, and specialist sub-committees.

    Membership of the regional advisory councils for further education is a matter for their constituent local education authorities, but I understand that further education teacher organisations are represented on all the councils and on most of their standing and sub-committees. As to the responsibilities of the regional advisory councils, I am consulting a wide range of interests on the arrangements for co-ordinating public sector higher and further education.

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Government's expenditure cuts and their savage effect on further education are putting particular responsibilities on the regional councils? In these circumstances, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vitally important that on the councils and their committees we should have people who have an understanding of grass roots college problems?

    I accept that there should be such people on the councils and their committees. As I understand it, they are already so placed. I would caution my hon. Friend about using such explosive and immoderate language. I do not accept that the cuts have been savage. No cuts are to be welcomed in education, but we must bear in mind the serious economic situation which is facing the nation.

    As my right hon. Friend is dealing with further education, is he aware that in England there are nine colleges of further education that deal entirely with the physically handicapped, and that there are other colleges that deal with the physically handicapped in special departments with special facilities? Although that is true of England, is my right hon. Friend aware that not one college in Wales has such special facilities? Will my right hon. Friend impress upon the Secretary of State for Wales the need for such facilities?

    I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the point that my hon. Friend raised. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that after only five days in office I do not have the detailed knowledge of exactly how many colleges of this and that there are and where they are located.

    Universities (Works Of Art)


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will seek to ascertain the extent to which the University Grants Committee takes into account the value of works of art possessed by universities in deciding on the grants to be made to them.

    May we take it that the bizarre idea of universities selling works of art of which they are custodians is now finally dead and buried? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that at a time of national economic difficulty the best way of helping the universities is to show a new-found realistic understanding of their problems, rather than to float culturally illiterate schemes of sale?

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman is imputing no suggestion that I have said anything of that kind. What he is getting at is a statement or remark which was made lightheartedly, I think, by my predecessor. We have the testimony of the House, because the remark was made before the Select Committee on Science and Technology on 7th May, when, quite lightheartedly, my right hon. Friend said that he had been told by a professor that times were so hard in the universities that they might have to sell some of their famous oil paintings. My right hon. Friend said that although that was one kind of hardship, he also knew that secondary schools in poor parts of the country had very serious problems. It was not a suggestion, as I think the hon. Gentleman imputed, on my right hon. Friend's part that the universities should finance themselves by selling their art treasures. If there is a scintilla of doubt in people's mind that this might become Government policy, I must disabuse them completely. I would not be a party to any such suggestion.


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will have discussions with the universities about public access to their art collections.

    I see no grounds for doing so. Most important university collections are open to the public, but if the hon. Member has any exception in mind I shall look at it if he will write to me.

    Will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to dissociate himself from the remarks made by the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science that universities should sell their art treasures to pay their bills? Is this not an inheritance for future generations to enjoy, and would it not be far better to raise money by making those treasures available to a larger public?

    If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier, he would have heard my right hon. Friend make the situation perfectly clear. My right hon. Friend did not associate himself with the remarks of his predecessor, and added that his predecessor intended those remarks to be taken as a joke. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is based on a wrong premise.

    Direct Grant Schools


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate he is able to make, as a result of his discussions to date, of the likely cost to the education service of discontinuing the direct grant system.

    I have nothing to add to the reply given on 8th April to a similar Question by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison).—[Vol. 889, c. 997–8.]

    Is it not completely unsatisfactory that at a time of great economic stringency the Department is not able to give any indication of the cost, while at the same time it is giving the boot to a number of good schools?

    The hon. Lady must try to understand that the financial implications of the abolition of the direct grant system, which I totally support, are difficult to estimate. There could be anything between a saving of £30 million and an addition of £12 million. Much depends on which of the schools elect to go into the maintained sector and which elect to become independent. By becoming independent they will subject themselves to any legislation which may be discussed or considered in respect of independent education. It is very difficult to estimate the cost until we know the outcome of our contacts and consultations with the schools.

    Does my hon. Friend accept that it is typical of the Opposition that they should count the cost of educational policy in economic terms rather than bear in mind the real educational advantages of increasing equality of opportunity?

    I should not dream of trying to do anything else, Mr. Speaker. Has the hon. Lady taken into account the possible capital cost of replacing the places in the direct grant schools which may go independent? If she does so, will she not find that the cost to the Exchequer is liable to be in the region of £100 million? Is it not an Alice-in-Wonderland state of priorities to be incurring this extra expenditure at a time when the education service is facing major cuts?

    I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has done anything to improve my figures. He is quite right in suggesting that there may be some more capital expenditure, but I can only repeat that until we know which direct grant schools will opt for which options before them it is impossible to give an estimation of the cost involved. That seems to be a fair and reasonable answer.


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress of his discussions with the direct grant schools.

    Since my Department wrote on 1st May to the schools and local education authorities about the arrangements for phasing out the grant, my officials have discussed particular questions with individual schools and authorities, and consulted their representative bodies about a departmental circular to be issued when the regulations implementing the Government's decision are laid before Parliament.

    Has the hon. Lady had discussions with parents of children at direct grant schools? Does she agree that the standards of education in those schools are such that they are always enormously over-subscribed.

    In my three days in this office I have not had a chance to have discussions with anybody, let alone parents, about direct grant schools. I do not think it is necessary to do so—[Interruption.] A large number of parents have made their views known to the Secretary of State for Education and myself through letters and representations which have been made through other bodies.

    Before the Minister comes to any firm policy decision, will she pay an early visit to Dulwich, where she will see the most obscene example of educational apartheid? On one side of the road, there is a direct grant school with great education and other facilities, and on the other side of the road a comprehensive school belonging to the Inner London Education Authority. The grossly obscene educational apartheid in that area surely will convince everybody in the country that the sooner we get rid of direct grant schools the better.

    I agree with my hon. Friend's remarks, and I should be happy to visit at least some of the schools and make the comparisons which he has mentioned. Since at one time I was the chairman of the Labour Party working group which made recommendations that were included in our manifesto on the subject of direct grant schools, I am unlikely, on any ground, to change my view that the present system involves educational apartheid.

    Is the Minister aware that the alternative she gave to the direct grant schools—namely, that they could go into the public sector or remain independent—discounts the fact that there are direct grant schools which have been told they can either go independent or be closed down, such as the Perse School for Girls? Has she taken that factor into account in assessing the cost?

    I cannot assess the cost until I know which of the options the direct grant schools are to take. Although I have not had time to look into this matter, when direct grant schools are closed it will involve some costs in respect of those children who come into the State sector.

    School Buildings (Wirral)


    asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will pay an official visit to school buildings in the metropolitan borough of Wirral.

    Is the Secretary of State aware that my constituents in Bebington are fed up at delays in implementing comprehensive secondary education, chiefly caused by the disastrous policies of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition when she was Secretary of State for Education? Therefore, will he take the opportunity, when visiting my constituency, to make clear—or will he say now—that despite the recent sabre rattling of Tory councillors he intends to implement comprehensive education throughout the Wirral?

    In reply to the general proposition advanced by my hon. Friend, I intend to see that comprehensive education is implemented throughout the country—which includes the Wirral. I understand that the Department received a scheme from the Wirral in February. We have had no indication of any change in those proposals. I hope that the local authority will go ahead and implement them as soon as possible.

    Prime Minister (Broadcast)


    asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a transcript of his interview on the television programme "Weekend World" on Sunday 11th May.

    I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) on 10th June.

    Is the Prime Minister aware that his criticism of Mr. Sevareid in his all-too-realistic analysis of Britain will seem extraordinarily complacent at a time of national crisis? What distinction does the Prime Minister's labyrinthine mind draw between Mr. Sevareid's description of Britain sleepwalking to disaster and the description by the Secretary of State for the Environment of Britain being on a suicide course—or is the Secretary of State just another wet hen in the cocktail party circuit?

    I answered a question last week on the serious speech made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. What Mr. Sevareid might have missed—as, indeed, have the Opposition—is the fact that in relation to our overseas balance of payments and the strength of the pound there has been the most remarkable recovery in the last five months in our balance of payments. Over the first five months of this year the deficit—including even oil, of which the Conservative Government never had to take account because it hardly entered into their last quarterly figures—is now 75 per cent. less than the monthly average for the same five months last year, and 50 per cent. less than the average monthly deficit of the last quarter of 1973, even though oil price increases had hardly begun to work through in that quarter. This is a remarkable achievement. It would be nice if the Opposition occasionally paid tribute to the exporters and those who have worked so hard to produce those figures.

    My right hon. Friend will be aware that page one of the transcript of the interview referred to the need to keep the country free from strikes, to boost production and exports. I support that view and the work of the Secretary of State for Employment, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House about the latest situation on the proposed strike on British Rail?

    My hon. Friend and the House will be aware that there have been developments over the weekend on that topic and that further developments have taken place this morning. In the expectation that discussions will be taking place, I think that probably I should not add to anything that has already been made public on this important issue. The Government have made their position absolutely clear.

    Is the Prime Minister of the view that the improved balance of payments position makes it unnecessary for him to take further action to curb inflation?

    Not at all. I said that it would be nice if Opposition Members occasionally paid tribute to the remarkable turn-round in our balance of payments. The need to curb the increase in inflation is due to the fact that we do not want to imperil the considerable success in our balance of payments so far achieved. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if inflation continues at the present rate it will imperil improvements in the balance of payments in the present year.

    Has my right hon. Friend received any observations on his important comment in the broadcast. in respect of the desirability of pre-Budget consultations with interested parties?

    My hon. Friend will be aware that the idea was welcomed by both the CBI and the TUC during that weekend. He may also like to know that reference was made to this matter in the meeting of NEDC this morning, when we discussed the future role of NEDC and the important paper produced jointly by the TUC and the CBI.

    Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that during the last election campaign the Healey figure for inflation was 8·4 per cent., and that after eight months of Socialist Government it is now 53·1 per cent.? Will the Prime Minister now say what action he proposes to take, if any, to arrest the daily decline of the pound?

    The right hon. Lady will be aware that this question was answered yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. My right hon. Friend particularly referred to the Budget figures in the last month, but the right hon. Lady will be aware that a very high proportion of the increase in wages in the last year, which she regards as uniquely the cause of this problem, has been due to threshold payments introduced by her Government.

    Does the Prime Minister recall that he said frankly in that broadcast that those who took more out of the economy than the nation could afford would face the Chancellor with the proposition either of clawing it back through taxation or of cutting down on social expenditure? Does he agree that the unfairness of that is that it hits people equally, whether they have settled within or outside the social contract?

    Yes, Sir. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of what I said. I agree with his judgment of the colossal unfairness between particular groups within the country. I think that my right hon. Friend proved in the Budget what was said, both by the right hon. Gentleman and myself—that because there were some settlements which were consider- ably outside the social contract, he had to do more in the way of taxation in the Budget than he would otherwise have done, at a time when the House would wish, not on cost inflation grounds, but on demand inflation grounds, to do something to increase the level of activity in this country because of the increase in unemployment.

    Dr Hastings Banda


    asked the Prime Minister if he will seek an official meeting with Dr. Hastings Banda in the near future.

    I have no plans at present to meet President Banda, though, as the House knows, I met him in April, when he was visiting this country.

    Is the Prime Minister aware that that reply will be greeted with some regret? If he met Dr. Banda he would receive sound advice on the question of Rhodesia. Is the Prime Minister also aware that that advice would be to drop the monstrous idea of subsidising, the Marxist régime in Mozambique, so as to persuade it to close the railway link, and so try to subjugate all the people of Rhodesia, black and white alike?

    I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Nor do I agree with his attribution of such views to President Banda. President Banda, and Malawi, provided the occasion for the meeting of the African Presidents with Mr. Vorster, all of whom are now trying to find an early solution to the problem of Rhodesia.

    President Banda is not associated with the reactionary doctrine put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

    We have made it clear that if Mozambique falls into line with the United Nations' decision on sanctions, which I think is supported by the Opposition Front Bench—it has been supported by the Opposition from time to time, and it may still be supported by them today—it is right, as we have said, for us to help the economy of Mozambique in consequence.



    asked the Prime Minister what changes in general Government policy he proposes to introduce following the outcome of the referendum.

    We shall continue to pursue the policies set out in our manifestos and approved by the country in two General Elections last year.

    Will the Prime Minister please now turn his undivided attention to inflation? Is it true that the Government are pressing—as was reported by the Press and radio this morning—the board of British Rail to go beyond the highly inflationary arbitration award? If the Government are prepared to accept and finance a rail settlement above 27½ per cent., how on earth do they expect anyone to take them seriously on inflation?

    As to the first part of the question, about giving my undivided attention to this matter, that is the case. We have had a series of meetings with the TUC and the CBI. Those meetings are continuing. I chaired the meeting of NEDC this morning. I shall be meeting the CBI this afternoon and the TUC tomorrow. These meetings will continue. We are seeking to reach agreement, in this democracy, on the basis of consent and not of confrontation. Any fool can obtain a settlement on confrontation. That does not last very long—as we saw. We are trying to get the basis of consent. I have already answered a question about the railways situation. I do not want to go beyond what I said this afternoon.

    Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, following the discussions with the CBI this afternoon, there will be no amendments to the Industry Bill beyond those which were agreed in Committee? I think that this is a matter of the greatest importance, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us his assurance.

    My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government, as usual, are considering the Bill as it comes from Committee. We shall discuss it with both sides. The Bill, and the implementation of the Bill, will be in full accordance with the manifesto and with the White Paper. My hon. Friend will be the first to agree that where action can be taken by voluntary policies, that is the right approach. That is what he said on Second Reading last February.

    Does the Prime Minister accept that any attempt to readjust the time scale of devolution, as a result of the outcome of the referendum, would prove to be a costly error for the Labour Party, in political terms? Will the Prime Minister give us an assurance that there will be no extension of the timetable originally promised?

    I welcome the hon. Gentleman's concern for the future welfare of the Labour Party. There is no connection in the minds of any of us between the outcome of the referendum and the Government's proposals on devolution, which were set out clearly in a White Paper which was published last autumn. We are sticking to the terms of the White Paper.

    It is known that I chaired a meeting on this subject yesterday. Despite Press rumours—I do not blame the Press because it gathers funny ideas from funny places—we are abiding by the White Paper. There is no change in the timetable. We have made that clear.

    Mrs Bandaranaike (Meeting)


    asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his recent meeting with Mrs. Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

    We discussed a number of matters of mutual interest, including the tea industry in Sri Lanka, my proposals on commodities made at Kingston, the future development of relations between the South Asian countries and the European Economic Community, and the meeting of the non-aligned nations in Colombo next year.

    Can the Prime Minister give us any indication of any measures which Mrs. Bandaranaike proposes to take to deal with the problems to which the Government have given urgent attention in relation to the tea plantations?

    Some problems have been discussed, some of which are of a bilateral character, as some of the plantations are owned by British interests. I have pressed that any changes made there should be accompanied, as is the usual and universally agreed practice, by compensation in cases where they are taken over.

    On the question of tea and commodities generally, Mrs. Bandaranaike—when she visited London, as well as in Jamaica—gave wholehearted support to the initiative which I took on commodities and felt that it was relevant to the problems of Sri Lanka in relation to tea and rubber.

    In view of the Prime Minister's distinguished record in support of War on Want, which is deeply concerned with the position of the Tamils in Ceylon, will he tell us whether he raised the problem of these Stateless people, who are without votes, representation or sustenance in the tea estates, largely because of their political position?

    I am aware of the problem. I did not raise the matter with Mrs. Bandaranaike because it must be regarded—whatever the feelings of my hon. Friend, or of War on Want, of which I was a founder—as an internal affair of the Sri Lanka Government.

    Pay Negotiations (Prime Minister's Speech)


    asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech at Poplar on Monday 19th May on pay negotiations.

    Is the Prime Minister aware that he said—and I quote—[Interruption.] I withdraw the personal quotation. The Prime Minister said that the big battalions should show restraint in the use of their industrial muscle during this period of unparalleled economic difficulty. Will he now say something about the vexed question of differentials, the solution of which would go some way to relieving the position of the lower paid?

    What I said about differentials I said to the TUC last year. I know from Questions put by the Leader of the Liberal Party this afternoon that this is a matter about which we are all deeply concerned. I answered a Question about differentials last week. The subject has been considered by the Economic Committee of the TUC and will be considered by the General Council in the light of proposals for a flat-rate increase on which I commented last week. The problem has been that when low-paid workers have received a flat-rate increase on a given poundage it has been translated into percentages, and people who are far better off—not only manual workers but white-collar and managerial workers—have said that they wanted the same percentage to maintain differentials. By maintaining the percentage differential they vastly increase the differential in cash terms. This is a problem to which the Government and the TUC are devoting a great deal of attention.

    Apropos the Question answered earlier, may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be more accurate, in view of the Government's record, to say that any fool can get a settlement with surrender? What is the Government's policy towards the railway dispute?

    It is exactly as we have explained it to the union and the board. I do not believe that it would help at this stage—[Interruption.] We have made it clear—we did this at the weekend—that we cannot possibly go along with the union's claim or with negotiations related to getting anything like that. We have made this very plain. We have explained to the union that although the consequences of a strike in support of the claim would be costly to the country at home and abroad, particularly for the travelling public and the movement of essential goods, the acceptance of a doctrine which would involve agreeing to the claim would be even more damaging.

    Coach Accident (Scotland)

    asked the Secretary of State for Scotland (by Private Notice) if he will make a statement on the coach crash which occurred yesterday near Moffat, Dumfriesshire, with loss of life and many seriously injured.

    At about 11.10 a.m. yesterday, on the Glasgow-Carlisle road, at Beattock, in Dumfriesshire, a southbound articulated lorry, which was unloaded, collided with a north-bound motor coach.

    Of the 44 occupants of the coach, 10, including the driver, were killed or later died from injuries. Thirty-four were injured, of whom the 20 more seriously injured are detained at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary and the 14 less serious cases at Law Hospital, Carluke. The lorry driver, who was unaccompanied, was injured and is also detained in Dumfries and Galloway Infirmary.

    The accident took place on a straight stretch of the A74 dual carriageway. There had been very heavy rain before the accident. Both vehicles were extensively damaged and are now being examined by regional vehicle examiners of the Department of the Environment.

    The coach and most of the passengers, many of whom were elderly, came from the Brighton area of Sussex. They were on a tour of Scotland.

    I would like to pay tribute to the members of the police, ambulance and fire services at the scene of the accident, to the medical and nursing staff both at the scene of the accident and at the hospitals to which the injured were taken, and to all members of the public who gave assistance.

    I am sure that the House will wish to join with me and my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in expressing our sympathy with all who were bereaved or injured as a result of this dreadful accident.

    May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and join him in expressing sympathy to the relatives of those who died? May I also express the hope that the injured will soon be leaving hospital? I join with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing the thanks of the House to all those involved in the rescue—doctors, nurses, ambulance men, police, firemen and the general public—who were so courageous and so efficient in getting the injured to hospital.

    Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there will be a fatal accident inquiry? While I appreciate the difficulty about upgrading this dual carriageway to motorway standards at once, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure the House that he will give urgent consideration to the erection of central barriers along the length of the A74? Does he agree that such barriers might have prevented this tragedy yesterday?

    The House should know that under the Scottish system fatal accident inquiries are in the first instance a matter for the Procurator Fiscal, who advises my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. If, as seems to be the case in this accident, an employee has been killed in the course of his employment, a fatal accident inquiry is mandatory. We will get more information about that from the Lord Advocate.

    The hon. Gentleman will know that this road has been the subject of considerable concern and inquiry on the part of himself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). The road is under constant surveillance by the road safety unit. We looked at the question of barriers fairly recently but came to the conclusion that the money involved—about £1½ million—would be better spent on increasing safety at road junctions, improving the hard standing on verges and the like. Naturally, in the light of this accident and what comes out of it, I will look at this question again.

    is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the people of Brighton have been stunned and shocked by this terrible tragedy? I am sure that the whole House would wish to express deep sympathy to every one in Brighton who has suffered grievous loss in this terrible accident. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of the people involved were known personally to me and my wife? May I pay tribute to those involved in the rescue operation for the efficient and effective way in which they carried it out? May I also pay tribute to the great courage of those who were involved in the accident? Is the Minister aware that they were nearly all elderly and that many were trapped for a time in the greatest possible pain? In thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, may I ask him to convey to the people of Scotland the gratitude of the people of Brighton for the way in which this tragedy has been handled?

    The House will be appreciative of what the hon. Member has said. I know how a tragedy like this can affect a town. These elderly people set out on what was to have been an enjoyable tour. One of the features that have been reported to me was the lack of panic and the courage of the people on the coach. I will readily convey to all those involved in the rescue services what the hon. Gentleman has said.

    May I join in the tributes that have been paid to those who assisted so ably at this accident? May I also express my sympathy to those who are suffering anguish and pain because of it? May I ask my right hon. Friend to convey to the Minister for Transport the grave apprehension that there seems to be in the country at large about such accidents? Would not now be a proper time to examine whether there should be a review of all the technical safety facilities used on such coaches? Should we not also review the kind of roads upon which such vehicles are permitted?

    We must be careful not to jump to conclusions about the cause of the accident. The question of the safety of coaches is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. From all the facts that we know about this accident there does not seem to be any question here peculiar to the safety of coaches.

    While we are awaiting the results of the mandatory inquiry to which the right hon. Gentleman referred may I fully endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) has said about the regret the House will feel concerning the casualties involving some of my constituents as well as his? May I also join in the congratulations that certainly deserve to be paid to the people in Scotland who looked after the accident victims?

    While joining in the expressions of sympathy offered to those who were injured and bereaved and in the praise to the public services, which did a wonderful job at the scene of the accident, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that there have been 800 accidents on this road over four years? Is he further aware that we are waiting for the upgrading of the road and for a barrier to be erected in the central reservation? May we have a guarantee that extra police provision will be made for this road because it is so dangerous?

    This is one of the questions that have already arisen. We are looking, with the police, into the whole question of traffic management of this road. It should be appreciated that this is not an accident black spot. No other accidents appear to have taken place at this location. From 1971 to 1973 only three single-vehicle accidents took place anywhere near it. We are dealing with one of the busiest roads of its type in the country. About 17,000 vehicles per day use the road, 25 per cent. of them being goods vehicles. Let us not jump too hastily to conclusions in respect of this accident.

    May I associate myself with hon. Members' expressions of sympathy for the relatives of the bereaved and for the injured, and their tributes to the rescue services.

    I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), and his promise to review the safety factors in relation to the road, although this is something to which he and his Department have given very considerable thought in the past. Could he bear in mind, in relation to previous examinations of the safety factor of the road, that since the examinations have taken place the road network at both ends of the road has improved vastly? It is now up to motorway standards at each end. This perhaps introduces a dangerous element for those who are using the road, in that they may not realise that it is just a dual carriageway road and not a motorway. Could this factor be taken into account in any future examination of safety measures or safety barriers? This would be of great reassurance to those who use the road and live along it.

    I do not doubt at all that there is the factor of coming off the motorway on to a trunk road. Whether or not this was a factor in the accident I am not sure. On all roads we have to take care to drive according to the conditions of the road.

    Simonstown Agreement

    (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement on the steps the Government intend to take to replace the facilities available to this country under the Simonstown Agreement, now that this has been terminated.

    As we have previously made clear, the Royal Navy will be able to continue to operate in the Indian Ocean using the normal facilities available to commercial shipping, although we expect it to do so less frequently than hitherto.

    I hope it is in order to start by congratulating the Minister on his appointment to the Privy Council. Having said that, I must ask him whether he recalls that last November the Foreign Secretary told the House that the Government were conducting a review of the naval arrangements arising from the Simonstown Agreement and that when this was complete the House would be informed. We do not regard a Written Answer to a Question yesterday as carrying out that undertaking.

    I have three further points to put to the right hon. Gentleman. First, the Secretary of State for Defence, as recently as January, said that the Simonstown Agreeement served a useful purpose in protecting the trade routes round the Cape. Is this no longer the case today?

    Secondly, what do the Government estimate that the effects will be upon defence expenditure and upon British exports?

    Thirdly, what has happened to the NATO review on the Soviet naval buildup in the Indian Ocean?

    I much appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's kind opening remarks.

    Over the last year we have had many opportunities to discuss all the difficult problems concerned with Simonstown. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the NATO review. He will also recall a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 3rd December, which was an introduction to the Defence Review White Paper, published some time ago. Since November we have also had two debates, and I think it is fair to say that there were no more than passing references to Simonstown in the debate we had early last month though it was well known by then that negotiations were to begin to terminate the agreement.

    May I answer the right hon. Gentleman's three specific questions? Of course, Simonstown has served a useful purpose, but we have had to look at the overall advantage. The Government have decided, after very careful consideration, that the balance lies with terminating the agreement, and that it will not inhibit us in operating in the Indian Ocean in the way we choose to do.

    Secondly, it will have no effect on defence expenditure. But also we have no reason to believe—if this is what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind—that it will affect those exports for which we shall continue to look for markets.

    The right hon. Gentleman's third question related to the NATO position. As I think he will know, NATO does not have any responsibility in that part of the world. It would be improper for it to do so, because the southern boundary of NATO is the Tropic of Cancer.

    On 14th January the Secretary of State told the House that NATO was conducting a study on this point. What has happened to the study to which the Minister referred?

    We have had no report of the outcome of the study, but it is very important to emphasise—I do not think there can be any dispute on either side of the House about this—that NATO has no status south of the Tropic of Cancer.

    is my right hon. Friend aware that we are very grateful to the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) for putting down this Question, which gives us a public opportunity to welcome warmly the decision of Her Majesty's Government about the termination of the Simonstown Agreement and their implementation of a solemn undertaking given by the Labour Party to the country at the last two general elections?

    It also gives us the opportunity again to rebut the delusions of the Tory Party and their associates about the defence, as they call it, of the Cape route and of the Indian Ocean. But could my right hon. Friend go further into the question of the NATO relationship with South Africa, especially in view of the revelations in the Press as recently as last week about the relationship, in terms of supplies and communications procedures, between the forces of the Republic of South Africa and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

    Concerning the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I emphasise again that NATO has no status in South Africa. I understand that the Press reports to which he referred were misleading, where they were not positively inaccurate.

    The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the balance of advantage. Could he tell the House what possible advantage there can be for Britain in abandoning proved and superb facilities which would be absolutely invaluable in the event of the Suez Canal being closed? Is this not just another case of the Government bowing down to Left-wing pressure and giving it precedence over the security of the West? If the Minister is concerned about trying to liberalise policies in South Africa, would he not agree that the way to do it is not to treat South Africa as an international leper?

    With regard to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question concerning the conditions, I find no evidence whatever, alas, that our maintenance of the Simonstown base over the years has done anything to liberalise the policies of South Africa, and I have no reason to believe that there could be any change in the future on that. There is a balance of advantage here, but I think the House would be very foolish to be insensitive to opinion, not only in this country but elsewhere in Africa, which has regarded it as anomalous for us to continue using this base. There are other facilities in the Indian Ocean which we shall use on a commercial basis, and there is no reason to believe that we shall be inhibited in operating in the Indian Ocean as often as we want to—irrespective of whether the Suez Canal is open—by giving up the Simonstown base.

    Would the Minister give the House an undertaking that all military collaboration with South Africa, not just at Simonstown, will now cease? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why"] Because it is a racialist, apartheid State and because of the Labour Party's programme of 1973. My second question is this: does not "Project Advocaat", which is based on Simonstown, mean that British firms are supplying parts for a military communications scheme?

    In regard to the first question, I think that the decision to terminate this agreement, which has involved no difficulties with the South African Government, does mean an end to military collaboration with South Africa in the way that my hon. Friend has in mind.

    As far as the other project is concerned, I do not think I have anything further to add, other than to say that it has nothing whatsoever to do with NATO, nor am I aware of an involvement of the kind which my hon. Friend mentioned.

    Has not the right hon. Gentleman forgotten something? Surely it would be only fair and generous in a statement of this kind to pay tribute to the enormous help, cooperation and hospitality offered by the South African people in their ports to generations of Royal Navy ships on passage to and from the Far East?

    Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he hopes in the future to receive continued help and co-operation from the South African Government to exert, especially on the intelligence side, the essential surveillance for the security of our overseas trade routes, whatever his right hon. and hon. Friends below the Gangway may say?

    Dealing with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's first point, certainly I am extremely happy to pay tribute to those individuals in South Africa—[Interruption]—which is what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, who over the years, have offered hospitality generously to the crews of Her Majesty's ships. It is perfectly reasonable to do that at this time, and I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman reminded me of it.

    As for the Cape route, we have discussed this on many occasions. In conducting our review of the Simonstown Agreement and in deciding to terminate it, we had in mind all our interests in that part of the world. In our debate a short time ago, I remember that we heard a very good speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) illustrating the dangers of assuming that the maintenance of Simonstown had significant consequences for our own security. It has not.

    Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the status of the so-called NATO study south of the Tropic of Cancer? Does he agree that the Simonstown Agreement is irrelevant to NATO? Surely what needs to be done in the circumstances is to strengthen the central front and the northern and southern flanks and not to provide for irrelevancies such as the Simonstown Agreement.

    My hon. Friend is right. NATO's obligations are in Europe. Whatever studies may be undertaken, its responsibilities do not extend south of the Tropic of Cancer.

    Is the Minister aware that the Royal Navy has been using Simonstown to protect the trade routes for 250 years? In his peremptory, dogmatic and short statement, the right hon. Gentleman gave no idea what the alternative arrangements were to be or whether the civil arrangements, which he just mentioned without specifying them, would be under the control of Her Majesty's Government. Will he explain this matter, because his failure to state the true position leaves a great deal of anxiety?

    I am sorry if my statement was dogmatic, but I make no apology for its brevity. The position has been plain for some time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the use of Simonstown over 200 years. I put it to him that circumstances change. Although the Royal Navy can operate in the Indian Ocean, it is ridiculous to attempt to be a police force around the world. That has been accepted on both sides of the House. For a large part, the facilities that we need to operate are commercial facilities, and these are available. They are available, for example, in a number of ports around the Indian Ocean which we have used previously. There is no reason to believe that we shall be inhibited in operating in the way in which we wish to operate within the limitations of 1975 by giving up Simonstown.

    Will the Minister accept that it is difficult to see how the defence of the free world can be discharged convincingly by having a permanent base in a country whose régime, repressive in nature, has been condemned by the overwhelming majority of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and that this decision is long overdue?

    Is the Minister aware that the decision announced in what I regard as being an under-hand way—by a Written Answer to a Written Question—on a matter of such importance may set back the help that we seek from the South African Republic over a settlement in Rhodesia? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether we have comparable facilities to those that we enjoyed under the Simonstown Agreement available to us in any black African State? Is he aware that, at a time when the Soviets are developing air and sea facilities in the Horn of Africa, to abandon the only facilities available to us under treaty arrangements can bring only comfort and warmth to Moscow?

    My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary can speak for himself, but I do not think that his announcement by means of a Written Answer is unusual. My information is that the announcement of the termination of the agreement was received very quietly in the South African Parliament—more so, apparently, than it has been here.

    As for comparable facilities, the right hon. Gentleman must know that Simonstown was special in itself. However, the nub of the argument is surely whether we need Simonstown and whether it has disadvantages for us, looking at the world picture. The answers are that we do not need Simonstown, that there are commercial facilities which we can and will use, and that therefore there is no need to look for a replacement.

    As for the right hon. Gentleman's third point, I ask him to look at these matters in a slightly more sophisticated way. Insofar as the Soviet Fleet is a new threat to world peace, it is not the case that we shall escape it by maintaining the Simonstown base.

    I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his well-deserved elevation and on his statement, which will be received with very great pleasure by everyone in the Labour Party and, as we heard from the Leader of the Liberal Party, by others in the House, though not by Conservatives. Does my right hon. Friend have any information whether the South Africans propose to make the Simonstown facilities available to any other NATO power on a bilateral basis, and is this the end of all bilateral defence agreements of any kind with the South African Government?

    I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks, though I must make it clear that we did not reach this decision simply to give him and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends great pleasure—though it may have that result. We reached this decision because, looking at the matter responsibly, we believed that the balance of advantage lay strongly with giving up Simonstown.

    Dealing with my hon. Friend's two questions, first, despite the public comments that there have been, I have no information that any other member of NATO hopes to use the facilities at Simonstown other than on a customer basis, as we shall be able to do. Secondly, it is the end of all bilateralism of the kind associated with this agreement.

    So far, the right hon. Gentleman has not given us much idea of the weight that the Government give, first, to the military, secondly, to the political and, lastly, to the economic considerations of this decision. In their careful consideration of this matter, have the Government decided that there is a change in the major dependence of the West on Southern Africa for strategic raw materials? They must have reached that decision to justify their decision about Simonstown.

    With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he makes complicated questions unreasonably simple. Our concern must be to say whether the maintenance of the Simonstown base, with its clear political disadvantages, is offset by the strategic advantages it provides in return for the economic consequences of cancelling the agreement. We decided that in 1975 the Simonstown base did not provide what we required, given the operations that we had in mind for our Fleet. The decision was made soberly, in a hard-headed manner and, I believe, correctly.

    Can my right hon. Friend say whether Her Majesty's Government know of any steps taken by any of our allies in NATO to enter into military arrangements with the South African Government to replace the Simonstown Agreement? Many Labour Members would regard it as absolutely disgraceful if such arrangements were entered into to carry on the support for apartheid and racialism—policies which appear to have supporters in some quarters in the House?

    I am not sure of the circumstances in which the Government could reasonably oppose decisions made by other Governments of the kind my hon. Friend has in mind. However, these are matters for the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and it may be that my hon. Friend would like to address this question to him.

    Is it not the truth that there are no military advantages whatever in abandoning the use of the Simonstown base and that this is just one more surrender of national defence interests to the rabid, dogmatic and highly selective disagreements by certain elements of the Labour Party with the internal policies of other countries?

    I think that the House as a whole will agree that that is a fair level of nonsense. I did not say and would not say that there was "military advantage in surrendering" the agreement. What I said was that there were political advantages in terminating agreements which no longer had military advantage for us.

    What are these advantages about which the right hon. Gentleman is talking?

    As the hon. Gentleman must surely know, the maintenance of an agreement of this kind with a country whose regime is abhorrent to many people both in this country and elsewhere has been regarded by many as a sign of support for that régime which does not help us in our dealings with other countries.

    May I offer my congratulations to my namesake on his becoming a member of her Majesty's Privy Council? Has not the right hon. Gentleman confessed in his answers today that this deplorable decision has been reached on ideological grounds and not on defence grounds? Will he now reconsider the matter?

    I greatly appreciate the hon. Gentleman's kind opening remarks. The word "ideological" is often misused. It is used as a term of abuse when a proper political decision has been taken. I repeat that when we looked at the balance of advantage it seemed that as Simonstown was a base which we no longer required to carry out those operations which we thought were possible and proper, and which we have set out in the defence review, there was no advantage in retaining it, given the political disadvantages, which are real.

    Does my right hon. Friend realise that his statement will be welcomed by the United Nations Organisation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—which has called for a total international embargo on arms sales to and by South Africa? Will he recall the courageous words of Mr. Harold Macmillan, when he was Prime Minister, in his "wind of change" speech in Africa? We have heard a lot of wind from the Conservative Party but very little change in attitude. We welcome the Government's move because at least they are taking action to end the system of apartheid, about which the Conservative Party has done very little.

    I noticed, as did my hon. Friends, the somewhat contemptuous reaction by the Opposition to my hon. Friend's proper reference to the United Nations Organisation. I say to Conservative Members that my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should be looking at what Britain requires today in a hard-headed fashion. Imperial illusions of the kind we have heard this afternoon have nothing whatever to do with Britain's defence needs in 1975.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman not set up his own skittles and knock them down but address himself to the questions asked and answer less evasively the questions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), and tell us which other facilities in the Indian Ocean area would be available to Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's allies in all circumstances and in all emergencies?

    As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is simply not possible to anticipate what might or might not be available in circumstances of war, should they occur. However, I have made it absolutely plain that in the interim, despite the termination of the agreement, we shall be able to use the facilities of Simonstown, if we need to do so, on a commercial basis. However, elsewhere in the Indian Ocean—in Karachi, Colombo, and Singapore, for example—there are major docking facilities which can be used by the Fleet and there are other facilities available in Mauritius, Mombasa and the Seychelles. These facilities are available now for the purposes of our Fleet. In circumstances of war it is plain that we should not find difficulties of the sort the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Should not the Minister inform the House about which facilities are available in the Seychelles?

    In view of the unsatisfactory answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), I shall try to raise this matter on the Adjournment—and so will a hell of a lot of my hon. Friends.

    That notice is, in fact, about as inoperative as notice usually is after an ordinary Question.

    Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are about to debate the Army. Although Simonstown is primarily a naval and air matter, this is a defence debate Would it be in order to debate Simonstown today?

    I shall deal with points of order on that debate when I get to it. I am trying to get to it. I have to stop questions now, because a number of hon. Members who are seeking to ask supplementary questions also wish to speak in the debate on the Army, and I must try to safeguard their interests.

    Statutory Instruments


    That the draft Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) Order 1975 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments.
    That the draft International Organisations (Immunities and Privileges) Miscellaneous Provisions Order 1975 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments.
    That the draft International Whaling Commission (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1975 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments.—[Mr. Coleman.]

    Orders Of The Day


    [19TH ALLOTTED DAY],— considered


    Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Coleman.]

    On the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) just now, I hope that we shall not have a detailed debate but passing references are sometimes permissible. I shall see how we get on.

    4.8 p.m.

    Six weeks ago, in the debate on the Defence Estimates, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence described to the House the Government's plans for implementing the proposals made as a result of the defence review. A major feature of these is the restructuring of the Army. I welcome the opportunity to explain in more detail precisely what this will mean to the Army's organisation, its capability and its men.

    The Army, to a greater extent than the other Services, can only be the sum total of its men. It is often said that the Navy and the Royal Air Force man their equipments, but the Army equips its men. The truth of this was forcefully brought home in the defence review, when we looked at the Army's rôle and commitments. We sought ways to make significant savings, but, at the same time, to preserve our capability to safeguard the security of Britain, and to maintain our commitment to NATO.

    Some savings could be found in the equipment programme. But to cut this too severely would have deprived the Army of the modern weapons which are essential to it if it is to remain a first-rate force. We, therefore, looked for savings in manpower, which represents the largest part of the Army's budget. Our solution was, therefore, to look at ways of streamlining the Army and of cutting overheads by cutting the need for them.

    The requirement for a reorganisation of the Army had, indeed, been recognised for some time, and we seized the opportunity to realise this in a comprehensive and logical manner. By our planned reorganisation, from divisional to unit level, the requirements of both economy and security will be met.

    The principles on which the reorganisation is based are set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates. The removal of a level of command and the increase in the span of command are complex proposals. In view of their importance, I should like to describe what they mean in some detail.

    One British Corps currently commands three divisions, two artillery brigades and the corps troops. Each division has two brigades, each of four major units, armoured and infantry. The brigade level of command will be removed, but in order to avoid too many subordinates under one commander, changes will also be made at the divisional level. We shall in future have four armoured divisions, each rather smaller than the present three divisions, and a fifth field force consisting largely of infantry. By cutting out the brigade level of command, the number of major headquarters will be reduced from 12 to seven. Each of the new divisions will contain armoured and reconnaissance regiments, mechanised infantry battalions, and artillery and engineer support.

    There will be five battle groups of armour and infantry, compared with four in the existing brigades. At unit level, there will be four squadrons in each armoured regiment, and four companies in each infantry battalion, instead of three. This will result in a substantial increase in the number of combat teams, and in fire-power. By cutting down the headquarters and increasing the teeth arms, we shall be making a significant improvement in operational capability.

    Similar principles have also been applied to the United Kingdom Land Forces. The headquarters of 3 Division and 16 Parachute Brigade and a large part of their subordinate headquarters and support will be disbanded.

    All district headquarters throughout the United Kingdom will take under command all the units in their boundaries, both regular and TAVR. But in three of the districts, East, South-East and South-West, we plan to organise these units so that they can form field forces. In South-East District, for example, there will be an airportable formation, equivalent to a reinforced brigade group. It will include the parachute capability which we undertook to maintain in the defence review. This formation, of about 10,000 men, will replace the United Kingdom Mobile Force. There will, as previously stated, be no reduction in our contribution to the ACE Mobile Force.

    Another feature of the restructuring is the pooling of specialised tasks presently undertaken by different arms and corps. In future, responsibility for these will be taken on by one specific arm or one specific corps, thus reducing overheads. For example, long range anti-tank guided weapons will now become the responsibility of the Royal Artillery, instead of being held by both the RAC and the infantry as at present. Army helicopter support will be centralised in Army Air Corps units, and ground-based reconnaissance will be concentrated in the Royal Armoured Corps.

    The reductions in manpower in headquarters and support areas will not involve corresponding reductions in weapons; the man-to-weapon ratio will thus be improved. The same number—and in some cases more—of front-line weapons and equipments, either in service now or planned to come into service, will be manned.

    The Government are keenly aware of the importance of the regimental system to morale and of the general interest it inspires throughout the country. The Army reorganisation was, therefore, planned to have as little effect on regimental identities as possible. I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will share my pleasure in the knowledge that all cap-badged regiments in the Royal Armoured Corps and infantry, including the Parachute Regiment, will be retained in the future. In the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Corps of Signals, the Army Air Corps and the supporting services there will be some reduction in the overall number of units, but impact on the regimental structure will be kept to the absolute minimum. The changes which will be made are only those which are essential if the reorganisation of the Army is to be thorough and effective.

    The Minister has said that one of his guiding lights has been the need for maintaining a balance between security and economy. Will he say what possible advantage to either will be derived by the disbandment of the Gurkha Battalion in Brunei, which was at no expense whatsoever to the British taxpayer?

    That disbandment, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is the subject of discussions which are taking place at present.

    We have not yet been able to quantify in cash terms the precise savings which will accrue from these measures. But they will enable the overall strength of the Army to be reduced by about 15,000 men. That is approaching 10 per cent. of the total force. The resultant savings will be a significant measure towards fulfilling the manifesto on which we were elected as the Government.

    Will the Minister make it perfectly clear whether it is not the Government's intention to have a Quartermaster Corps? If the Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the REME are to be untouched, why are we not to have a Quartermaster Corps?

    If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, I think he would have realised from what I said a short while ago that the existing Royal Corps of Signals and so on would stay largely as they were. There is no question in the Defence Review of a Quartermaster Corps.

    The Minister has said that the Government have made no assessment of cash savings as a result of these economies but that they meant a saving of 15,000 men. What is the object of the exercise if there is no idea of what economies this will mean? The whole idea of these cuts was presumably to make economic savings.

    I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been able to answer his own question. I am sure he knows that the biggest cost of any army, and certainly a regular professional army such as ours, is the cost of manpower. If there is a saving of 15,000 in manpower, there must be economic savings.

    As I was saying, this pledge largely fulfils the commitment in our manifesto, particularly as we shall also be able to make proportional reductions in the number of civilians employed by the Army.

    As the Defence White Paper explains, there will also be some reduction in our forces stationed outside Europe. But by means of the reorganisation we shall be able to continue to maintain our contribution to NATO of 55,000 troops on the mainland of Europe, in accordance with our treaty commitments. We shall make no reduction in this level in advance of mutual and balanced force reductions.

    The aim of the restructuring has been to create a more cost-effective and streamlined field Army, with fewer overheads and a greater combat capability. When it is complete, we shall have a modern Army, geared to the requirements of the 1980s. As part of this, because BAOR would depend, of course, on its reinforcements to bring it to its war footing, we have sought to simplify and to improve the reinforcement process. Mobilisation will be more efficient and more rapid, and there will be a significant increase in the number of reinforcements available.

    Within all this, the part played by the TAVR in maintaining the security of Britain will gain even more importance. As a result of the Defence Review, the TAVR will become more closely integrated with the Regular Army, to the advantage of both. It will continue its present rôle of reinforcing the Regular Army in defence of the United Kingdom and of the Continent, and TAVR units train to this end with the Regular Army. I believe that the integration of the TAVR within the new district command structure will lead not only to greater efficiency but also to improved morale. The men and women of this reserve will have a stronger sense of professionalism and of identity with their Regular counterparts.

    It would, of course, be foolish to pretend that all is perfect in what is unfortunately an imperfect world. The final shape of the reorganisation will depend on the outcome of trials and exercises. But we do not believe that there will be any need for a major recasting of the model I have described. One cause for concern is the level of recruiting to the TAVR, which is still less than we would wish to see. However, I am confident that the TAVR, with its high standards of efficiency and dedication, is capable of meeting the tasks allotted to it.

    Within the Regular Army I know that there is concern about redundancy. While the reductions in manpower will as far as possible be achieved by natural wastage, a measure of redundancy will be unavoidable. The scale of the restructuring makes it impossible to say at this point in time precisely who will be involved. Hon. Members will appreciate that there is a mass of fine detail being sifted as our overall proposals are realised.

    If my hon. Friend cannot say much more about this, can he say over what period of time this contraction of 15,000 is expected to be achieved?

    We would anticipate that in the case of the Army the redundancies would start towards the end of next year, and we would hope that the reductions would be over a period of about four years. I cannot say with any accuracy at this stage, but that is the time scale that we have in mind. However, I can say with conviction that the terms of redundancy set out in the White Paper are fair and that every effort will be made to assist those concerned in their return to civilian life.

    The quality of life and the conditions of service of the soldier are matters of paramount importance, in which I take an extremely strong personal interest. Service men and their families, particularly when stationed overseas, are cut off not only from their relations and friends but often also from familiar entertainments and pastimes. In Germany especially, boredom presents a problem; however, as I was able to announce to the House earlier this year, plans to provide an English language television service for the British families in Germany are progressing extremely well.

    By the end of the year a recorded service will be available for about eight hours a day to about 17,000 Service men and their families. By 1978, as far as is feasible, programmes will be transmitted to Germany simultaneously with their transmission in this country. Technical considerations, and also the time difference between this country and Germany for part of the year, may sometimes make simultaneous transmission impossible: but live items such as the news are likely always to be broadcast at the same time, and this will be a most welcome innovation and, in the Government's view, fully justifies its relatively small cost.

    If we think in terms of defence costs overall, the capital cost of giving this service to Service men and their families in Germany of £8 million a year and running costs of £1 million a year are absolutely good value for money. I do not think anyone would dispute that.

    The hon. Gentleman has talked about £8 million, but I gather that the cost of maintaining our force in the Eastern Mediterranean and east of Suez, is only three or four times that amount. Does he really think this dissemination of news is worth the sacrifice of that commitment?

    This is an attitude one finds hard to understand. We on this side are criticised for cutting costs east of Suez, and on the other hand the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) seems to be taking a nigardly attitude on expenditure of £8 million to give some joy and satisfaction to Service men and their families on the Continent. It will be noted in other places.

    We are aware that the substantial rise in house prices in recent years has caused a good deal of worry to Service men who have deferred house purchase until they leave the Services. We have, therefore, been pursuing a number of schemes designed to give Service men some assistance in this respect. We recently published improvements to the Resettlement Scheme whereby an interest-free advance of pay up to a maximum of six months' pay or £3,500, whichever is less, is made during the last two years of service. This loan is recoverable from the lump sum payable on retirement or discharge.

    We have also introduced a new scheme from 1st April 1975 for Service men of 50 years of age or more. This scheme provides for an interest-free advance of a similar sum recoverable at an annual rate of 10 per cent, of the advance with any balance remaining on retirement from terminal benefits. As hon. Members are aware, special arrangements were recently introduced to enable members of the Services to vote in the referendum, irrespective of whether or not they were actually registered as electors here at home. This involved for the Service authorities a considerable task of planning and organisation; I am sure the House will wish me to recall that once again the Services have displayed their usual versatility in carrying through a quite unprecedented operation. Some 230,000 votes were cast by Service personnel and their wives entitled to vote under the special forces voting scheme. This represents about 60 per cent. of the total eligible and is roughly in line with the average of the United Kingdom. Possibly there is a message here in that there were soldiers, sailors and airmen who agree very much with their civilian counterparts, certainly when it comes to voting in a referendum.

    On this point, of course we would all agree with the tribute the hon. Gentleman has paid to the Services, but does he not think they should always vote on every occasion in General Elections, at least as much as their civilian counterparts?

    I very much agree, and I am coming to that point. These arrangements reflected the Government's concern that only a small proportion of Service men and their wives who are qualified to have their names placed on the electoral roll as Service voters are actually so registered. The reasons for this unsatisfactory state of affairs have been fully explained recently by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force. I am conscious that the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in particular, who is not in his place, share the Government's concern in the matter, and, therefore, I take this opportunity to repeat that it is the intention of the Government to introduce, as early as the opportunity presents itself, legislation designed to improve the arrangements under which members of the Services and their wives may register as electors. Frankly, I am appalled at the small percentage of Service people who are eligible to vote, and I would like to see Service men and their wives, as in the referendum, completely on a par with their civilian counterparts in all elections.

    I am sure that that concern is shared by the whole House. The Speaker's Conference and both sides of the House have welcomed very much the initiative which has been taken in this field by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, and we would certainly like to see it pressed forward. But cannot the Minister go further and give a positive undertaking that legislation will be introduced in the next Session, if it is not possible in this? Why should we need any longer?

    I certainly cannot give a firm undertaking but I would hope that as soon as the Speaker's Conference gets under way the sooner we shall be able to get this legislation on the statute book. For too long it has been apparent that Service people have not been taking the opportunity open to them to register because of the obvious difficulties of which we know. I sincerely hone that we may see legislation in the next Session.

    I do not wish to press the hon. Gentleman but surely we do not need another Speaker's Conference on this. The work has already been done. All we need is the parliamentary draftsman to draw up a Bill.

    The hon. Gentleman knows well enough that the parliamentary timetable is not a matter for me, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will take note of this, and I will see that he is informed of the views that have been expressed during this debate.

    The Minister mentioned Service men's families. Will he take account of the case of dependants who are over the age of 18 but do not appear on registers? This should be carefully looked at.

    I can give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that I will have this question examined.

    To turn now to a very different but equally important subject, I should like to say a few words about our forces in Northern Ireland.

    There has been a general reduction in the Army's operations in the Province, particularly in the size and frequency of patrols, and in the scale of searching and questioning. However, intensified patrolling is continuing along the sectarian interface as part of our efforts to reduce sectarian violence. Hon. Members will, I know, agree with me that force levels in Northern Ireland should be kept as low as possible consistent with the job the Army has to do. Last year the situation in the Province made it possible to reduce the force level from 16 major units in the infantry rôle to 13. In April this year a further reduction was made. However, any further cuts in force levels in the Province must depend upon a lowering of the present level of violence.

    Hon. Members will share my horror at the high level at which violence continues, much of it totally indiscriminate. While we do not believe that the Provisional IRA has been responsible for much of the bombing and shooting that has taken place during the past four months, others have taken their place. There have been more than 70 civilians killed since the cease-fire started.

    The Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment continue to work in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the prevention of violence and in helping to bring to justice those responsible for the brutal crimes taking place. The task of combating violence in the conditions that exist in the Province is not an easy one. Although the number of incidents involving the Army has been greatly reduced since the cease-fire, maintaining a low level of operations can, as we all know, be an even greater strain on morale. During this period soldiers in the Province are continuing to carry out their duties with the same bravery, skill, and determination as have characterised their contribution throughout the emergency.

    My own experience of visits to units in recent months has been that morale in the Army is high, nowhere more than in Northern Ireland. The recent pay award to the Armed Forces has demonstrated that the Government are concerned to be a fair employer. Recruiting has suffered none of the detrimental effects as a result of the defence review predicted by some Opposition critics. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that the changes in the Army consequent on the review have amply demonstrated that it is a vital organism capable of evolution, of adapting itself to new conditions. I firmly believe that Britain will continue in the 1980s to have a firm guarantee of its security, with field forces which for their capability and efficiency are the envy of many of our allies.

    4.33 p.m.

    In the main debate on the Defence White Paper about six weeks ago there were many powerful criticisms of that document from the Opposition side of the House. At the end of the debate, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends nevertheless went into the Division Lobby to defend Ministers against the wrecking amendment being pressed by the Secretary of State's nominal Friends below the Gangway, one of whom is here again today. On that occasion the number of Conservative Members voting against the wrecking amendment was noticeably larger than the number of Labour Members who could be persuaded to support their Government.

    Today we approach this debate on the Army with the same spirit of critical objectivity, in spite of the provocative remarks by the Minister of State, who has earned his promotion to the Privy Council on other occasions, about the termination of the Simonstown Agreement, a decision which can only add to our defence costs but which is more properly debated in depth on the Navy Estimates.

    The policy for the redeployment and restructuring of the Army, which has been outlined in the White Paper and very clearly described by the Under-Secretary, whom we welcome to the Dispatch Box this afternoon, will clearly leave us with smaller and weaker forces than we had before. In at least one respect the Army is more fortunate or less grievously hurt than the other Services.

    Well before Ministers embarked upon the elaborate charade known as the defence review, a thorough study of the Army's command structure and the fire support had begun. In most of the conflicts in which the British Army has been involved since the end of the Second World War—Palestine, even Korea, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and Borneo, the number of trained men deployed has been more important than the amount of fire-power they could bring to bear. On the central front of NATO, however, it is plain that firepower is more important than manpower. We therefore plainly welcome any study, particularly one which started under a Conservative Government, which seeks to improve the proportion of weapons to men and the balance between headquarters and fighting units.

    As a result of the planning which has been done, the Army has avoided—at least so far—the necessity of disbanding any cap-badged regiments, as the Under-Secretary reminded us, but the Secretary of State has frankly admitted that brigade headquarters would not have been cut in the way they have been had it not been for Treasury orders. Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver may have written some of the lyrics for this reorganisation, but it is the Treasury which has provided the tune.

    Looking back to days that even I can remember in the Army, there were airborne divisions, armoured divisions and infantry divisions. They have all gone or are going, and the new formations which are taking their place should more properly be known as financial divisions. Certainly the shape and deployment of these financial divisions has been dictated by the size of our purse rather than the scale and scone of the threat which this country and its allies are facing.

    In the debate on the White Paper, some of my hon. and gallant Friends have already pointed out certain of the risks in cutting out the brigade headquarters level of command. In these new divisional headquarters the planning time available to the commander has inevitably to be reduced as the headquarters becomes the focus for a flood of unfiltered and unchecked information. At a time when there is urgent talk about the need for co-operation with our allies, I note that this reorganisation of our command structure gets us increasingly out of step with the rest of our NATO partners. If these new divisions are to work, they must be equipped with a full range of highly sophisticated, high-speed, secure communications equipment. The chances of this essential equipment being provided by this Government are, however, almost nil. Indeed, procurement of this part of the Army's equipment has always lagged behind. I remember mentioning it in my maiden speech on the Army Estimates some 18 years ago.

    At NATO headquarters recently I learned with some degree of horror that compatibility between the communications systems of the various armies operating on the central front of NATO will not be achieved for at least another 12 years. Meanwhile, we have grave fears for the safety of the present equipment programme of the Army.

    The Secretary of State for Defence has again been disarmingly frank and made it plain that the only criticisms of the defence plans that really have any effect on this Government lie on the employment side. Ministers have clearly been impressed by the sight of angry shop stewards from aircraft factories rushing to Conservative Members to complain about the niggardly arms procurement and arms sales policy of this Socialist Government. The Government know that they will provoke a storm of criticism if they cut back still further on orders for combat aircraft, for every one of these contracts has considerable political, employment and economic sex appeal.

    We know that the employment position in our shipyards is likely to deteriorate still further with the world surplus of shipping. Therefore, any attempt to cancel or to roll back our remaining shipbuilding programme for the Royal Navy is likely to provoke yet another storm of opposition from the shop stewards and the trades unions.

    The procurement programme for the Army is spread over a wide range of equipment which lacks much glamour. We have seen demonstrators trying to save the Buccaneer and the Harrier. It is much more difficult to imagine demonstrators marching up and down Whitehall shouting slogans such as "Save the Ptarmigan Trunk Communications System". We therefore suspect that the Army will be asked to bear an undue proportion of the extra £110 million defence cut that so recently made nonsense of the defence review. We suspect that the Army will always be in the front line and most at risk when it comes to coping with any future economies.

    I have not followed the hon. Gentleman's reasoning. Does he believe that the Government should give way to the demonstrations, when surely the great need in this country and in the rest of Europe is for a standardisation of weapons? Surely any demonstration by a particular lobby in this country must be put in the context of the great and crying need in NATO for standardisation.

    I find it difficult to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments, because whether a single contract goes forward has nothing to do with standardisation. A decision about standardisation comes at a much earlier stage, the design or ordering stage of the weapon concerned.

    An important point was raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman but the reply he has received is not yet adequate. Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that with standardisation of equipment as between the NATO partners some countries will lose out on some contracts. Clearly, this will affect the production of a particular piece of equipment in British plant. Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on Conservative views about reciprocity as between the various allies and partners in NATO?

    I begin to see the point of the question, which I must admit I failed to appreciate from the question by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because the matter was entirely off the point that I was making. The question is not whether one will order equipment which is standardised. Planned wireless sets and the Ptarmigan Trunk Communications System have a high degree of compatibility. The question at issue with these cuts is whether those systems will be ordered at all and not whether they are standardised. If we do not have a wireless set it does not matter whether it is standardised. We are talking about absolute cuts.

    Some of us are critical of the whole concept of directing all our efforts to the central front where there is already a heavy concentration of men and weapons. It seems to some of us that the threat is greatest on the flanks of NATO, and that the Soviet Union and her friends are likely to probe most vigorously where we are weakest.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), in the defence debate referred in a telling phrase to the Soviet Union as being "soft underbelly men". By cutting our United Kingdom mobile reserves and by cutting the airportable brigades from three to one, Ministers have helped to make the soft underbelly just a little bit softer. Our ability to reinforce the flanks is much reduced.

    The Under-Secretary has said that we are to keep the Parachute Regiment. Can he confirm that we are to keep the three battalions of the regiment?

    As I understand it—and the Under-Secretary touched on this point—the units of the airportable brigades are to be redeployed under the command of home districts. The argument is that this will make the home districts more mobile-minded. The Americans have an expression which they use when faced with an argument which is inherently improbable; namely, "Go tell it to the Marines". Perhaps our equivalent expression, when faced with the improbable argument that redeploying some of the airportable units back under the districts will make the districts more mobile-minded, should be "Tell it to the air-portable brigade".

    My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) hopes later to talk in greater detail about the sorry state of our Reserves position. I hope that the Government will be particularly slow in disrupting the United Kingdom Mobile Force so that after the next General Election other ministerial eyes may still have time to review the situation.

    During the past five years the Army overseas has had to reinforce the home front in Northern Ireland. Although a sort of cease-fire has reduced the casualty rate among our forces, clearly the scope and nature of the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland must continue to play a major part in any debate on the Army. Since the Army first took up an operational rôle in Northern Ireland, no fewer that 279 of our Service men have been killed. Ninety-eight of them have died since we last had a full debate on the Army, in April 1973. During the past five years service in Northern Ireland has often been dangerous and uncomfortable I know that Ministers are anxious to do what they can for the comfort of the troops. I hope for an assurance that they will not relax their efforts on behalf of the troops. When the immediate danger seems to recede, one becomes more rather than less conscious of the discomfort. There are those of us who fear that the IRA is using the cease-fire to rest, regroup and rearm. The level of violence could escalate with great rapidity.

    Of course, we want to be able to reduce the size of our forces in Northern Ireland. We are glad that the Under-Secretary has been able to spell that out in some detail. So long as our forces are subjected to the over strain of too frequent emergency tours in Northern Ireland, the terrorists can feel that they are having some success. It is wrong militarily, and bad from every point of view, to continue to use soldiers in a purely police role. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the Northern Ireland political leaders to reach agreement on their future policing arrangements. One such agreement has been reached, the police should be given wholehearted support and so enabled to carry out their duties throughout the community in sufficient strength.

    Then there is the rôle of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The calamitous raid on the Ulster Defence Regiment armoury the other night should not blind us to the fact that night after night thousands of Ulster citizens are prepared to undertake arduous and sometimes dangerous work for the whole community. With a prolonged period of semi-cease-fire, the nature of the strain on the Ulster Defence Regiment is changed. What study is being made of the long-term rôle of the regiment, particularly in a "no-peace, no-war" situation?

    Whatever interpretation we may put on the recent armoury raid, the raid underlines the fact that a United Kingdom military presence in Northern Ireland will be needed for a long time. I deplore the rumours of premature withdrawal of the Army from Northern Ireland. I am prepared to accuse this Government of stupidity, and even of Socialism, but I do not believe that they would deliberately refuse to carry out the first responsibility of any State, which is to protect its citizens in their own homes. Ministers have only themselves to blame if doubts persist. Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) asked, as is his wont, a wholly helpful question:
    "is it not the case that the Government are resolved, whatever may be said to the contrary, that our forces shall continue in support of the civil power until normal policing by the RUC throughout the Province is possible?"
    The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland replied:
    "Yes, Sir."—[Official Report, 16th June, 1975; Vol. 893, c. 958.]
    If only he had left it at that, all would have been well, but he rambled on, leaving loopholes for those who want to find them. I respect the right hon. Gentleman's good faith in this matter, but I wish that one of the Ministers on the Government Front Bench could persuade him at least sometimes to give rather shorter answers.

    I hope that the Under-Secretary will have noted the irritation aroused among members of the general public and the Armed Forces, in particular, when it seems that the next-of-kin of suspected terrorists who have been killed receive larger compensation payments than the dependants of Service men who have been killed in Northern Ireland. I am glad that in response to our prodding the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence, has set up a review of the operation of the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968. I hope that the Under-Secretary can tell us how far the review has gone, and when we may expect a final report.

    I concede that Ministers are in a difficult position. If they are too generous, others who have been injured or bereaved in earlier conflicts will ask, with increasing force, "What about us?" But, as all the available cash appears to be earmarked for unwanted schemes of nationalisation, Service pensioners must, alas, wait. Like other pensioners, the Service pensioners are particularly vulnerable to inflation. We do not expect this Government to be able to match the record of real improvement set by the last Conservative administration. I freely admit that we left an overly complicated scheme behind us. Not many months ago the Officers' Pension Society found that the Ministry of Defence was calculating the pension of a substantial group of pensioners on the wrong basis. If the Ministry cannot understand its own system, what hope have the rest of us? Are plans being made to simplify the system at the earliest opportunity?

    As the Under-Secretary has reminded us, the proposed cuts will make 15,000 soldiers redundant. Most of them will become premature pensioners, and the career structure for everyone else will be adversely affected. Many of those made redundant will be senior NCOs and middle-rank officers. The somewhat meagre compensation terms are set out in Annex H of the defence review.

    Many of those affected will also have housing problems. Housing help for ex-Service men is dealt with by Circular 54/75 of the Department of the Environment, published on 9th June, one of the smuggest and most inadequate circulars that I have ever seen. Is it really the last word on housing assistance to those soldiers whose careers are being cut short? There is a fractional improvement in the assisted house purchase scheme. Will the Under-Secretary of State look at the scheme again both on a short-term and a long-term basis? For example, what consideration is being given to the establishment of a Services' building society?

    Inevitably, as we go over the Estimates a gloomy story is unfolded, a story of retreat and of cutting back. The alliance has clearly gone through great strains in the past few months. As the Secretary of State for Defence—whom we hope to see some time in our defence debates—is in the United States at an important conference, it might perhaps be appropriate for me to close with a quotation from a speech made by the President of the United States on his return from a NATO meeting in Europe, when he said:
    "An adequate level of defence is going to cost us something. But the price of sacrifice is far less than the price of failure. Freedom is never free; but without freedom, nothing else has value … We will honour our commitments … We will do our duty."
    Those are the words of President Ford. I just wish that we had a Government who would honour their commitments and do their duty.

    5.2 p.m.

    The Opposition demand cuts in Government expenditure, yet when we specifically tackle that problem in a responsible way they criticise the Government for jeopardising the security of the country and the future of Service men. It must be more than a little trying for my ministerial colleagues, accustomed though they are to this exercise and to being criticised by some of my hon. Friends from the opposite standpoint. Some of my hon. Friends feel sincerely that the Government have not gone far enough in reducing the burden of defence expenditure. I have more sympathy with my hon. Friends who take that view than I have with the Opposition, because it is consistent with their general line of argument on other matters and is a view that they have sincerely held for a long time.

    One of my principal reasons for intervening in the debate is to stress that I do not share that point of view. The very fact that the Government are criticised for cutting defence expenditure too quickly and too much and at the same time are criticised for not moving fast enough in that direction is probably a fair indication that the Government are getting the balance about right. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I am impressed that the Government have taken steps in foreign affairs as well as in defence after careful study so to adjust our commitments as to make possible reductions in expenditure. They have reduced in step our commitments and our defence burdens to take account of the country's financial and economic problems.

    We cannot go on indefinitely carrying a heavier defence burden than anyone else. Neither can we—and in this I agree with the Opposition—so rapidly cut back our defences as to throw them out of gear and risk weakening our contribution to NATO.

    Détente, which we hope will continue, does not make defen