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Political Education

Volume 982: debated on Tuesday 15 April 1980

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the level of political education given to officers in the Armed Forces.

Senior officers require an understanding of the general political background to defence questions, both nationally and internationally, and I am satisfied that proper account is taken of these matters in their training.

In view of the reported remarks of the Chief of Defence Staff at the time that some Army officers at Army headquarters were talking about the possibility of military intervention in February 1974—talk condemned by the field marshal—is there not a need for more sophisticated political education at a higher level than that we saw recently in the film on the Staff College at Camberley? Were those officers who were talking about the possibility of a coup in Britain ever disciplined? Were they reminded of their constitutional and public duties?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to make far too much of some off-the-cuff remarks. The Army, of course, is concerned with questions of internal security as anyone who is aware of what the Army has had to undertake in Northern Ireland must know. It is right that officers should have proper training in these matters.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it would do nothing but good if officers in the Services had a first-hand opportunity to hear the extraordinary and bizarre political delusions of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and his hon. Friends the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) at first hand? Would that not do much to strengthen the resolve of those officers to defend this country?

Why only officers? Is it not significant that during the Second World War the excellent Bureau of Current Affairs helped the forces not only to understand but to discuss the political issues of the time? Will the Secretary of State consider reviving that bureau?

I think that recollections of the activities of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs will vary. It is vitally important, however, that there should be no political bias, no political indoctrination and no party political activity on the part of serving officers.

Are not officers in Her Majesty's Services taught to fear God and honour the Queen, and should not those precepts be their guilding principles?

Yes, of course they should. Surely, in the week when Zimbabwe comes to independence and when we have testified in this House to the high quality of the contribution made there by Her Majesty's forces, it is absurd to talk of Army officers being politically biased.