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Vote 2 Reserve Forces, Territorial Army And Cadet Forces

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 15 March 1962

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding £19,900,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the Reserve Forces (to a number not exceeding 240,000, all ranks, including a number not exceeding 233,000 other ranks). Territorial Army (to a number not exceeding 225,000, all ranks), Cadet Forces and Malta Territorial Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1963.

6.15 p.m.

I have one or two questions which I wish to ask quickly. The first relates to Subhead A of Vote 2. I cannot understand the reference to the Regular Reserve of Officers. On page 29, it is stated:

"The Regular Army Reserve of Officers is divided into three classes."
I assume that in Class II and Class III there must be a fairly substantial number of officers who would come under this heading. Yet on page 30, opposite Regular Reserve Officers, I find, "Nil". I do not understand that. It may mean that all the officers are recruited under the Army Emergency Reserve and come under that heading, but that does not seem a plausible explanation. Perhaps my hon. Friend will comment on that point.

My second question comes under Subhead D, "Territorial Army Works, Buildings and Lands". I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure me that the Army Territorial Service is not buying more land. Goodness knows, it has enough already.

Under Subhead Z, there is a reference to receipts from property sales. It seems madness if, at the same time, they are still buying more land for more buildings. Surely they have enough land in their possession, and there ought to be no additional expenditure under this heading.

I wish to ask some questions about the Reserve Forces and the Territorial Army and Cadet Forces. I have been trying to work through the various categories of reserve personnel, and I should declare a slight interest for I appear to be in the Army General Reserve, which, I understand, is the Reserve with the least obligations. A sum of £20 million is involved.

I wish to ask some specific questions on a subject which may well be covered in this Vote or in Vote 1. Has this Vote any effect on the number of Regular Army personnel who are engaged in the work of preparing camps for the Territorial Army and the Combined Cadet Force?

I have asked this question on previous occasions. I asked it in the debate on the Army Estimates. It is well known that a large number of men of the Regular Army have been employed on the necessary work of putting up tents and generally servicing the Territorial Army. I think that this is not a good thing for the Regular Army to do, and I should like to know whether it is covered by this Vote, and how many men will be engaged on this work this year.

I believe that it is fundamental that men of our Regular Army should not be engaged in these tasks if, at the end of the year, when the Territorial Army season ends, they find themselves not in the right and proper stage of training that they should be. The situation would be very much worse if any of the men in the Strategic Reserve comprised in this Vote engaged in these tasks.

Another question which I have asked before concerns the training of the "Ever-readies". While there is a pool of trained ex-National Service men available from which the "Ever-readies" can be trained there should be no difficulty in the training of the "Ever-readies". I would prefer that they were trained not in the Territorial Army, but on a separate basis, preferably with the units of the Regular Army to which they would be attached if trouble should ever come. Is there any provision in the Vote to give to the "Ever-readies" some extra training over and above Territorial Army training? Is there any provision for the paying of "Ever-readies" for this purpose?

I realise the problem that arises when this pool of ex-National Service men has dried up. The "Ever-readies" then will be simply T.A. trained men. In my opinion, that training, however good it may be, will not be enough for them to fulfil the rôle which they will be called upon to fulfil with the Regular Army. Harm will be done to the Territorial Army unit in the first instance, because men will be instantly whisked away from that unit and they may be called upon to fulfil important rôles with the Regular Army. If their training is not adequate they will not be able to fulfil that rôle properly. Is there provision in the Vote to give these men, particularly those who are not ex-National Service men, other training short of the six months' training that they may well be called upon to undertake? I am thinking of some type of training over and above Territorial Army training.

We have been told that the Territorial Army is to take part in an exercise, to be held in September. Is provision made for that in this Estimate? What is the estimated expenditure that the Government have in mind for this special exercise?

I notice from Subhead D, "Territorial Army Works, Buildings and Lands"—that the figure has gone up from £2,400,000 for 1961–62 to over £3 million this year. This is a substantial increase. I should like to know the reason for it. Strictures have been made in the past on the buildings of the Territorial Army, but I am not making any this evening. Has any study been made of the comparative cost of putting up Territorial Army buildings through private contracts compared with the cost of the Regular Army putting up its own buildings? Is it more expensive pro rata to put up buildings for the Territorial Army than for the Regular Army? Perhaps we may have some explanation of this increase.

Another question is: how does the number of civilians employed on the staff of the Territorial Army compare with the situation pre-war? We are told in the Explanatory Memorandum that the reorganisation of the Territorial Army announced in Cmnd. 1216, is now complete. Since we are back to a fairly normal situation, can we be told whether any comparison has been made between the number of civilians now employed in the Territorial Army—ex-officers and people of that category—and the number pre-war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) asked me a question on a technicality about the presentation of the figures for the reserve of officers. I shall have to write to him, because I cannot answer him at the moment.

My. hon. Friend also asked me about our land holdings, and why we are still buying land in the United Kingdom. The position is that overall the Department has reduced its land holdings, following the reduction in the size of the Regular Army, and that we are now in the course of releasing about 146,000 acres. Up to the present we have actually given up about 118,000 acres. My hon. Friend will realise that it is necessary from time to time, while allowing some land to go, to acquire other land. We do so only when we have to meet the changing needs of the Army.

For example, new Army information offices are being acquired to help my right hon. Friend with his recruiting drive. We have to buy sites for the provision of married quarters, but they do not amount to a very great acreage. Also we sometimes have to acquire small extensions to existing areas of War Department land, such as the training areas, to enable the Department to concentrate in one location and release land elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) asked how much assistance would be given to the Territorial Army by the Regular Army during the coming training season. I believe that he has a personal interest in this, having once, as a National Service man, found himself looking after a Territorial Army camp. I appreciate the hon. Member's personal interest. It is impossible at this stage to give him a figure of the actual number of Regulars involved in assisting the Territorial Army in this way, because the arrangements to do this job are made by commands from within their own resources. When they have calculated what they need they make bids to the War Office for any assistance they cannot provide from their own sources within the command, and we have not yet had these bids for the forthcoming year.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is our policy, and we see that this is enforced in the commands, that the number of Regulars used to help in Territorial camps and Territorial Army training is kept to the minimum. This is obviously sensible. On the other hand, it is all part of one Army and one defence force and it is necessary to ensure that the Territorial Army gets its proper training; but where possible, for obvious reasons, we spare the regular manpower.

Will the Minister assure us that no unit of the Strategic Reserve is involved in this work?

I cannot go beyond what I told the hon. Gentleman the other night, that we shall make sure that the primary rôle of the Strategic Reserve is not in any way compromised by it, perhaps in marginal cases, having to undertake this sort of obligation. Its first priority will be to remain available for its primary rôle.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about building costs and whether he was in order in raising this question on this Vote. He certainly is in order and I can assure him that we make a very careful study of all comparable rates of building costs as between our needs for the Territorial Army and the Regular Army and those that prevail in civilian life. We do this continuously.

The explanation for the increase in the provision for building for the Territorial Army this year in this Vote is a rather special one. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman drew attention to it. The position is that the reorganisation of the Territorial Army has thrown up a number of surplus properties—drill halls, and so on—some of which have a high value for purposes of redevelopment. At the same time, a great deal of Territorial Army accommodation and property is out-of-date and needs rebuilding or modernising.

6.30 p.m.

My right hon. Friend and I are determined to ensure that, as appropriations in aid of this Vote will result from Territorial Army property coming up for disposal, the Territorial Army will get its fair share of money available in the defence budget for the rebuilding of premises of which it will get the future benefit. With this in mind we have recently agreed with the Territorial Army Advisory Council a five-year rebuilding programme. After consultation between commands and local Territorial Army Associations, we have put just over £1 million in these Estimates to ensure that a start will be made this year. We are very glad to have been able to do this. We owe it to the Territorial Army to ensure that it gets its fair share of new buildings to replace old property which is being sold.

The hon. Member for Aberavon asked me about the training of "Ever-readies." I cannot say that in this Vote there is provision for any extra training of the "Ever-readies" over and above that which falls under their obligation as members of the T.A. It is, perhaps, worth making this point. I meant to make it in one of our earlier debates about the "Ever-readies" and their training. Hon. Members who have perhaps sometimes felt that, with the arrangements we have made the "Ever-readies" might not be sufficiently highly trained, should remember that the purpose of this reserve is to be called up to join Regular units in time of tension, not in times of actual war.

Implicit in its employment in this way is, I think, a period of time during which the men called up to join the Regular unit would be likely to be living side by side with Regulars during a period of tension, readjusting themselves to the life of a Regular service battalion, having an opportunity to shake down and brush up their individual training, and so on. This is worth bearing in mind, because it obviously will be a useful opportunity of further training for the men of this reserve over and above what they will do with the Territorial Army in the normal way.

This is a very novel doctrine which the Under-Secretary is enunciating. As I understand, the "Ever-readies" were formed because the Government's recruiting programme has broken down. The situation might arise in the immediate future in which Regular units are under strength and the "Ever-readies" would be called up in times of tension—I thought to strengthen the Regular Army. We are now told that the raison d'être is to train them. In times of tension a Regular unit which is under-strength will have enough on its plate without having to train these new recruits.

I know that this is a slight exaggeration of what the Under-Secretary has said. I do not want to indulge in a reductio ad absurdum, but the facts are that we were previously told that this was to be a corps d'elite. We were told that the most careful selection would be made. Some of us questioned whether a fortnight's training was quite enough to equip a man to take his place in a Regular unit. We were told that this would be enough. We are now told, as if there have been second thoughts, that it does not matter very much, because hostilities will not result. We are told that there will be a time of tension and that, therefore, these men can be called up and trained. This constitutes another change of front on the part of the Government.

I readily admit that I am pushing it a little hard. If the Government now think that a fortnight's training is not sufficient—I am inclined to agree with them; I have always had doubts about the proposal from the time I first saw it—they should go away and think again. If a moment of tension comes, clearly the Government will not take the drastic step of calling up the "Ever-readies", because that might even heighten the tension. It will become known that they are being called up. How can the Government be sure that hostilities will not result? The "Ever-readies" are to be called up because hostilities might result. As for the training programme of the "Ever-readies", the Government are to look at the problem as if, although they call them up to put the dummies in the shop window, it is absolutely certain that hostilities will not result.

This is an extremely dangerous doctrine. I have wearied the House on many occasions by referring to the almost perfect mobilisation plan, namely, that which operated in 1914. It was almost perfect in the way it operated. It is true that the rearguard action from Mons was fought by units which contained as high a percentage as 60 per cent. reservists. But they were reservists who were trained. That is why they out-fought the Germans. They had the great merit that they were the product of a long service. Now we are to have the glass topped up not by trained reservists, but by men who have had no training at all and whom it is hoped to train when they get there.

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman with great patience, but he must not say this. All along he has been attributing to me much more than I have said. Now he talks about these men having no training at all. He knows full well the training which an "Ever-ready" will have to undergo as part of his engagement. I merely said, quite by the way, that as and when this reserve is called up there will be an opportunity in the normal course, because of the way these things are likely to happen—it is not certain—for the men to have a period in which to shake down in a Regular unit. I am not saying any more than that. The hon. Gentleman must accept that.

I have not the least desire to be unfair. Indeed, I have said that I am pushing it a little hard.

The hon. Gentleman says that I know full well that they will have to undergo training. What training—a fortnight? What can be done with an enthusiastic young man in a fortnight, which might be as long as a year ago? It might be little more than a memory. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman that a very good unit which happens to be short, let us say, of 50 men and makes them up with "Ever-readies", can take the 50 "Ever-readies" and still be effective. I do not say that that cannot happen. I say that the Government have changed their mind.

If the Secretary of State thought that, he was very hard put for arguments when we were considering the Army Reserve Bill. If he thought this he would have said, "Do not worry about this. We shall be very selective and choose only good material. We shall ensure that it is a corps d'elite, but the training is to be carried out after they are called up". That as what the Under-Secretary has said.

The Under-Secretary must not shake his head like that. Of course, he can do so if he wants to, but it has no effect, except that his head may drop off.

If a man has had only a fortnight's training, which may be as long as 50 weeks ago, no one will argue that he is an effective soldier. Of course not. He will not be comparable to the reserves who were called up under Section B in 1914. Nor will he be in any way comparable to the National Service man whose place he is taking and who has "gone through the mill" and is in every way a soldier.

I say this kindly, with great respect, and very sincerely. The Under-Secretary has come along today to break this one because somebody in the War Office has had second thoughts about how this will work and wants to calm public opinion. They want to calm the Army by saying, "Do not worry, boys. When they get in, the Army can perform miracles". The Army can perform miracles, provided that it is not pushed too far.

We have had other announcements from the Government about the change in their manpower targets and the fact that they are examining the question of having a corps of infantry in the constitution of the Army as a whole. We are also promised in the White Paper an examination of the reserve forces. There is a specific undertaking in the Defence White Paper that the whole of the reserve forces will be looked at again and, as I have said, it seems that some rethinking is required. I wish there had been some rethinking before the Army Reserve Bill had been introduced.

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that what I have said is incorrect, or that I am making too much of this, perhaps he will set my mind at rest and relate what I have said to the statement in the Defence White Paper that there is to be a re-examination of the reserve forces.

Question put and agreed to.


That a sum, not exceeding £19,990,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the Reserve Forces (to a number not exceeding 240,000, all ranks, including a number not exceeding 233,000 other ranks), Territorial Army (to a number not exceeding 225,000, all ranks), Cadet Forces and Malta Territorial Force, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1963.