HC Deb 29 March 1939 vol 345 cc2048-52
Mr. Arthur Greenwood (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister whether he can make any statement as to the intentions of the Government in connection with the Territorial Army?

The Prime Minister

The House will remember that in a recent statement I announced that every aspect of our national life including the National Defence programme would be examined anew. In the course of his review His Majesty's Government have been impressed with the need for availing themselves still further of the spirit of voluntary service which is manifest throughout the country. In particular they feel that they cannot allow would-be recruits for the Territorial Army to be refused because the units to which they apply are already over strength. Accordingly they have given consideration to the position and have come to the following conclusions:

The House will appreciate that these important decisions will involve a number of consequential decisions in order to provide for the necessary increases in accommodation, in the number of competent instructors, in equipment and reserves and in the War Potential necessary to maintain the increased forces. Plans for all these matters are being worked out and further information about them will from time to time be given to the House. It will be realised that a further and much augmented effort will be required to bring home to the nation the need for obtaining the numbers aimed at in the shortest possible time, and I trust that all Members of the House will be willing in one form or another to give their aid in such an effort.

Mr. Greenwood

I want to ask the Prime Minister three simple questions which I am sure he will be able to answer. It is perfectly true, if I may make a preliminary observation, that many of the details will have to be worked out, but will the right hon. Gentleman try to utilise, for the purposes of instruction and so forth, the services of a very large number of elderly men who may not be themselves fit for active service but whose services might be used at the present time? The second question I should like to put to the Prime Minister is this: Having regard to the need for equipment, and so forth, for the Regular Forces, which are naturally the primary concern, whether active and adequate steps will be taken to provide the enlarged Territorial service with the equipment which is necessary if they are to be of any value? My final question is: While deploring the circumstances which have made this step necessary on behalf of His Majesty's Government may we—and this may be my one discordant note—may we on this side of the House welcome the Prime Minister's statement as a reaffirmation of the Government's intention to uphold the voluntary system as against conscription?

The Prime Minister

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first question, it is intended to utilise the services of retired officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers for the purpose of giving instruction to the Territorial Army. In reply to the second question, we shall endeavour to take such steps as will enable us in due course to provide equipment for the Territorial Army without in any way interfering with the provision of equipment for the Regular Forces. In reply to his third question, the right hon. Gentleman is quite correct in his assumption that this is an evidence of the Government's opinion that we have not by any means yet exhausted what can be done by voluntary service, and we shall demonstrate the possibilities of voluntary services to meet all our needs.

Sir A. Sinclair

In view of the great effort which will be required to provide the equipment for these men, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he will consider afresh the case which we have more than once urged for a Ministry of Supply? Having said that, may I say that we realise the importance of the step which the Government have taken, and, with reference to the last few words of the Prime Minister, may I say that we shall certainly help in any way we can?

The Prime Minister

In regard to the question of a Ministry of Supply, the Government have had no opportunity yet of considering whether the new step will require any modification of the views which have hitherto been held, but certainly it is a matter which will come under consideration.

Mr. Maxton

May I ask whether the big changes which the Prime Minister has announced will require the consent of the House, and, if so, when and in what form they will be put before the House for consideration?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member will appreciate that these new steps will cost money, and, therefore, Supplementary Estimates will have to be presented to the House which will give an opportunity for discussion.

Sir A. Knox

Will the Prime Minister consider the desirability of increasing the period of training of the Territorial Army, which is quite inadequate?

The Prime Minister

I would not like to give a pledge now.

Sir W. Brass

May I ask whether, in view of the Prime Minister's statement, it would be possible to start a new and intensive recruiting campaign at once for these additional men?

The Prime Minister

I think that will be necessary.

Mr. Bellenger

Will this increase make any difference to the plans recently outlined by the Secretary of State for War as to the number of divisions which are to be held in readiness as overseas forces if necessary?

The Prime Minister

The announcement which I have made will double the number of divisions that will in time be available.

Mr. Sanders

Will the Prime Minister at once issue a statement that every man who applies to be enrolled in the Territorials will have his name taken at once, no matter what is the number on the books, and that he will be called up to be equipped and trained at the earliest possible moment?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Mabane

In order to increase recruiting, will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to ensure that employers allow all those who desire to enlist in the Territorial Army to attend camp without interference with their normal holidays?

The Prime Minister

That depends upon the employers, but I am informed that at present there are employers anxious to give leave to their men, but the men have not been able to find a place in the Territorial Army.

Major Milner

May members of the Territorial Army take it that there is no question of the creation of a new army as in the last War, when a new army was created and priority and precedence was given to members of that army in preference to long-serving members of the Territorial Army?

The Prime Minister

It is obvious from my statement that we are not contemplating anything of that kind.

Mr. Lyons

Will the statement made by the Prime Minister allow for the reopening of the Emergency Reserve list of officers?

The Prime Minister

It is very difficult to answer all these technical questions. I think that in all probability it will.

Viscountess Astor

If it were found later on that some employers—because they do

vary—were tiresome about allowing the men out, would the Prime Minister make it compulsory?

The Prime Minister

I think we had better wait and see.

Sir John Haslam

Will my right hon. Friend consider the idea of issuing a badge of some sort so that people in civilian dress can show that they belong to the Territorial Army?

The Prime Minister

That has already been done.

Mr. Tomlinson

In view of the statement which the Prime Minister has made and the request that will be made, will some opportunity now be taken of reviewing cases of disabled soldiers who were in the last War and who are suffering as a consequence thereof, with a view to accelerating recruitment?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that arises out of the question.