HC Deb 29 January 1951 vol 483 cc579-82

As a result of earlier measures the numbers in the active Forces have already been substantially increased. The total strength of the Armed Forces will, by 1st April next, reach 800,000 men—as compared with the figure of 682,000 given in the last White Paper on Defence. We are, however, without the trained reserves of officers and men with up-to-date training who would be required to fill out the existing formations in an emergency. As the House knows, the Government's long-term plan has been to build up these reserves through the system of National Service; but there has not yet been time to build them up from National Service men who have finished their Colour service.

The Government now propose to fill this gap by calling on a number of selected reservists who have the up-to-date training required, and giving them a period of refresher training so that, if an emergency arose requiring general mobilisation, they would be ready to take their place in the units with which they would have to serve.

We have therefore decided to call up this summer for 15 days' training with the Army up to 235,000 reservists, officers and men. The great majority of the men will be Class Z reservists, who were called up for service before the end of 1948. Of these, some 80,000 will do their training in the Territorial units and formations with which they would actually serve if war broke out. Forty thousand reservists will be similarly called up for training in the Anti-Aircraft Command. About 115,000 reservists will be called up for training with Active Army formations in the United Kingdom and with various technical, administrative and fighting units which would be required in war to support our Forces overseas and in this country.

In addition, the Royal Air Force will recall for 15 days' training about 10,000 officers and men who will be required to man the Control and Reporting Organisation in emergency. The men will be drawn from the Class G reservists, which are the equivalent of the Army Class Z.

The Class Z and G reservists to whom I have referred, being specially selected trained men required to serve exceptionally in peace-time, will receive the normal regular rates of pay and allowances, together with a bounty of £4. By arrangement with the Ministry of Labour, no Class Z or G reservist will be recalled who would be reserved for industry in the event of a general mobilisation.

Legislation will be introduced in the near future to give effect to these proposals. The men to be called up will be notified as early as possible, and each man will be given the maximum notice of the date on which he is to join his unit. Arrangements will be made to give sympathetic hearing to cases of individual hardship. The legislation to which I have referred will confer on these men the same protection against loss of employment or holidays on account of their training as is enjoyed by National Service men summoned for training during their part-time service.

This is a selective call-up. The purpose of the plan is to select those officers and men whose qualifications and experience in their rank, trade or arm of the Service fit them to fill the existing gaps in the formations and units as they now stand. The selection must therefore involve some element of discrimination between man and man; for, if the plan is to achieve its purpose, the basis of selection must be the actual requirements of the Services. The officers and men selected will in fact be those who, by virtue of their qualities and experience, can best fulfil the country's need at this time.

We shall also call on some members of the Regular Reserve and Auxiliary Forces to make their contribution.

The Royal Navy will call up about 6,000 men from the Royal Fleet Reserve for 18 months' service with the Regular Forces. The Navy will also need, for 18 months, about 600 officers from the emergency list of the Royal Navy, the R.N.V.R., or the R.N.V.S.R. It is hoped that a good proportion of the reservists concerned will be obtained by calling for volunteers.

The fighter squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force are an essential part of the fighter defence of this country. The officers and men of these squadrons, numbering about 2,300, will be called up for three months' continuous training, which will enable them to take their place in the front line in the event of emergency. The Royal Air Force will also recall for three months' refresher training about 1,000 aircrew reservists of the Regular and Volunteer Reserves. In addition, about 200 regular and volunteer reservists may be recalled for flying instruction duties for periods up to 18 months. It is hoped that a good proportion of these will he obtained by calling for volunteers.

For the time being it will be necessary to continue the practice which, as the House knows, all three Services found it necessary to adopt at the beginning of the fighting in Korea, of retaining Regulars beyond the normal expiry of their Colour service. But the additional period which individuals so retained will be required to serve, after the expiry of their Colour engagement, will not exceed 18 months in the Royal Navy, between 12 and 18 months in the Army, and 12 months in the Royal Air Force. The Regular reservists already called up by the Navy and Army for the Korean emergency will be released by those two Services after they have completed a broadly similar period of service.

The general purpose of all these plans is to make more effective the Regular Forces now in being, and to ensure that mobilisation, if it became necessary, could be carried out more rapidly and smoothly than would otherwise be possible. This applies particularly to the provision of the units and formations which would be required in the initial stages of an emergency.

For the Navy, the measures proposed will enable more ships to be put into full commission, and will enhance the state of readiness of the Reserve Fleet. They will enable the Active Army to move more rapidly to a war footing in an emergency, and they will facilitate the rapid mobilisation of certain formations and units of the Territorial Army. For the Air Force, they will enable additional squadrons to be formed more quickly, will greatly improve the over-all efficiency and readiness of our air defences and will provide for the additional training requirements both of the front line units and of the reserves.

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