HC Deb 17 May 1938 vol 336 cc216-8
41. Captain Sir Derrick Gunston

asked the Secretary of State for War whether any further battalions of Territorial infantry are to be converted to an antiaircraft role?

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Hore-Belisha)

Yes, Sir. Four infantry battalions have accepted an invitation to assume an anti-aircraft searchlight role this autumn, namely, 4th/5th (Queen's Edinburgh) Battalion The Royal Scots; 5th Battalion The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (Walker-on-Tyne); 5th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry (Stockton-on-Tees); 5th/8th Battalion The Cameronians (Glasgow). These battalions will not necessarily be "converted" to another corps. They have been given the option of remaining infantry: in which case they will continue to wear their infantry uniform, bear their infantry titles, and maintain full connection with their infantry regiments: the only difference will be that they will have anti-aircraft instead of infantry equipment and they will adopt the organisation of an anti-aircraft unit.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

Is it not advisable to endeavour to raise units of home service soldiers for this particular kind of work? Does my right hon. Friend realise that it reduces the striking power, and therefore the deterrent power, of British arms if he turns combatant infantry units into home defence antiaircraft units?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

That is not so. We are dealing here with the Territorial Army which, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, is liberally supplied with infantry in relation to our Regular Army and, therefore, in relation to our total requirements.

Sir H. Croft

Is it not a fact that home Territorial units could go overseas in case of emergency, and, therefore, is it not transforming the whole character of the Territorial Army?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

No, Sir. I am prepared to be advised by the General Staff in this matter as to the proper balance to maintain between various arms. The totals are not affected.

Mr. Sandys

Is the equipment for these new units available?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I trust that it will be.

57. Mr. Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for War the total number of complete anti-aircraft units now established in Scotland?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

For the particulars of the anti-aircraft units already established in Scotland, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave on 29th March last to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers). On that date the strength of these units was 320 out of an establishment of 1,178. There are now very few vacancies in these units remaining to be filled. In addition to the foregoing, authority has quite recently been given for the raising of an additional anti-aircraft battery by the Territorial Association for the County of Fife.

Mr. Davidson

Is it the opinion of the Minister or the General Staff that because of its geographical position, Scotland requires less defences than any other part of the country?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I hope the hon. Gentleman will notice the answer which I gave to-day which shows that the antiaircraft defences of Scotland are to be increased.

59. Major Whiteley

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that there are large numbers of ex-soldiers and others over the present military age who are desirous of taking an active part in the defence scheme of the country and who are well able to serve anti-aircraft guns; and whether he will consider forming anti-aircraft batteries for local defence, to be manned mainly by men too old for service in the Territorial Army?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

It is for the reason given in this question that the age for enlistment into Regular anti-aircraft units was raised to 35 years. For the antiaircraft units of the Territorial Army, 50 per cent. of the establishment of any unit can be enlisted up to the age of 50 and serve until 54. This gives ex-service men considerable opportunity to enlist in such units.

Major Whiteley

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider forming units for definite local defence and not for foreign service if necessary; and will he also consider allowing a larger proportion than 50 per cent. of the personnel to enlist up to the age of 50?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Clearly, if we could fill these units with men under 50, and fill them without difficulty, it would be a mistake to raise the quota over 50 per cent. I would rather proceed in the opposite direction. Obviously, it is better to have the younger men if they are obtainable.

Major Whiteley

Cannot more active employment be found for the younger men?

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