HC Deb 26 November 1953 vol 521 cc623-36 Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Legh.]

8.52 p.m.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

At times when the House has sat into the small hours of the morning, I assume that it would be in order to apologise for detaining the House still further. Fortunately, tonight I have no such qualms of conscience, because the Motion for the Adjournment has been moved at a reasonable hour. At the start, I should declare my interest. I am a commander, R.A.O.C, in the Army Emergency Reserve, and as a result I have a personal interest in this subject.

I should make it clear, because I still have another year's training to do, that what I say tonight and what I have said in the past on this subject of the training of the Army Emergency Reserve must not be interpreted in any way as a criticism of the way in which my own corps undertakes its training. I do not think any praise could be too high for the efficiency and enthusiasm of the headquarters responsible, aided by its training establishment. It has shown remarkable ingenuity over a long time in making the maximum number of bricks with the minimum amount of straw, but it cannot do the impossible, and in my opinion the training of the Army Emergency Reserve is not producing the results that we require.

I am well aware that the A.E.R. consists very largely of service and administrative units, such as the R.A.O.C, R.A.S.C, R.E.M.E., and so on, and I know that a large number of these units are to be used to reinforce the static and semi-static home and base installations. I am not concerned with that type of unit tonight. As far as I can judge, their training is probably adequate and is very well carried on in the existing home depots. I want to concentrate my remarks entirely on the training of the field force units.

I think that all hon. Members are well aware that the Reserve Army today plays a vital part in the European defence system. When it is remembered that the Western Powers are able to deploy only a very limited number of Regular divisions in Europe, as against a Power that has available, so we are told, something like 175 Regular Army divisions and something like 70 satellite divisions, it can be seen that the task that would face our Regular divisions in time of war would be a very formidable one. Their chance of survival would depend very largely on our ability to mobilise our Reserve Forces very quickly and move them to the place where they were most urgently required. Those Reserve Forces at the outset would be put up against the regular forces of the enemy, and if their training was not adequate, then, to put it no higher, they would start at a very considerable disadvantage.

A large number of the A.E.R. units will not be found further forward than the corps area, but under conditions of modern warfare it is as essential for them to be efficient as it is for the forward units. What we have to ask ourselves is whether the training now given to the A.E.R. is likely to produce at the end of three years units able to operate efficiently in the field and, above all, to survive as far as they can.

The A.E.R. is, I think, the Cinderella of the Reserve Army, and, unlike the Territorial Army, it has no drill halls or the amenities that go with them. The units draw their men from all over the country and rarely do they see one another except for the two weeks' training camp each year. In general, it is true to say that less training equipment is issued than to the Territorial Army, and the units very rarely receive in training anything like the number of vehicles which they would normally have in war establishments in time of war. As a result of that, especially in the case of technical units which normally have a large number of vehicles, the unit commanders get the wrong ideas about the problems involved in movements of vehicles and in their dispersal under the threat of jet plane attacks, which they may have to face in time of war.

A small point is that, unlike the Territorial Army, they never see their scale of equipment, G.1098. Again unlike the Territorial Army, they do not enjoy the facilities of standing Training Camps with permanent staffs which take a large burden of the administration from the officers, thus enabling them to devote much more time to the more essential work of training. Another very small grouse is that, in general, they have to carry out all their fatigues. That means that a large number of their men are engaged day by day on fatigues instead of training. I know the problem there is one of man. power, but it is a problem which we have to face.

Most of these are deficiencies which we can make good, but there is one problem which is more difficult, and that is the problem of instructors. It is probably true that the resources of the Regular Army today are strained to the limit. I should have thought that the problem of training this ever-growing Emergency Reserve was becoming an absolute nightmare, and, furthermore, it is a fact that the A.E.R. finds it extremely difficult to provide sufficient efficient instructors from its own resources.

When we take that into account, together with the fact that the average emergency reservist receives less than six weeks effective training in the whole of his three years' service, it makes it more essential that the training programme should depart from the usual conventional type of training like drills, demonstrations and lectures, and concentrate mainly on the practical training designed to enable the Reservists to operate quickly, to be able to move quickly and to look after themselves.

Without going any further into the demerits of the existing system, perhaps I may be allowed at this stage to make some suggestions which I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War will regard as constructive and helpful. On the administrative side, I suggest that the Reserve units should have a Regular Army adjutant allocated to a group of units over a period of training. Such an adjutant would take off the shoulders of the Reserve officers many of the problems that beset them at the moment. He could help with the mass of paper work, and he could give officers and the orderly room staffs very valuable personal training.

It is much more difficult to be specific with regard to the period of training because the requirements of units vary according to their type. However, perhaps I might make a few general suggestions. I would say from experience of handling technical units that it is practically impossible to give adequate technical training to a unit in a two weeks' period in each of three years. Therefore, the emphasis should be on the practical field work, such as driver training, with its corollary of movement discipline and map reading. Again the emphasis should be on concealment dispersal and protection against air attack, which will be a vast and difficult problem for units with a large concentration of vehicles.

Then, again, much greater attention should be paid to practical weapon training rather than concentration on lectures, because the standard of weapon handling amongst certain service units of the Army today is at a deplorable level. The units should take part as far as they can in exercises with other units, and if possible with formations. For instance, why cannot they take part in Territorial Army divisional exercises?

In the third year I suggest that Army emergency units—certainly corps units and possibly Army units—might train with a formation in Germany. I am well aware of the financial and other difficulties in the way of such a suggestion, but if a corps unit goes through an exercise of mobilising and moving to a European theatre of war, not only the units themselves but the general staff will get much extremely valuable experience in the problems that will arise if the Reserve Army has to be mobilised and moved rapidly.

Above all, I would plead for sufficient training equipment, and that the unit at least sees the number of vehicles which it has to handle in time of war, so that it can see the problems of drivers, of dispersal and of movement that are likely to arise. If the manpower situation makes it impossible for others to do the fatigues which would normally fall to the lot of such a unit, I would plead that it does its training under field conditions where fatigues are reduced to a minimum, and where such as are done at least give training in field craft or field domestic work under more realistic and characteristic conditions.

Perhaps I ought to conclude this brief grouse with a reference to the major problem that besets the Emergency Reserve and conditions its entire efficiency—indeed its existence—the problem of the volunteer. I know that the Secretary of State for War has done everything he can to stimulate recruitment. I know that my right hon. Friend has endeavoured to interest the Press and to do other things designed to give publicity to the need fox recruits. It is almost impossible to form and maintain an efficient unit without a nucleus of volunteer officers, especially N.C.O's.

If I may quote the R.A.O.C. as typical of the whole, the number of volunteers there, including National Service men, is 15 per cent. of the existing Reserve strength, and of that 15 percent. probably two-thirds may have had active service experience in the last war. That situation may deteriorate because a number of the existing officers, especially commanding officers and senior N.C.O's, when they come to the end of their present three-year term of training, may not volunteer for a further period. At any rate, that seems to be the present tendency. As a result of these problems we are not able to form all the units required, and large numbers of men today are being trained under the block training system, which everybody agrees is not the best form of training by a long way.

Perhaps I could make a few suggestions here. One of the main obstacles that I have found to persuading men to volunteer is the fact that many of them have to give up their holidays to attend training camp. Their wives very naturally object, and they themselves object. There are some employers, and Government Departments who give a very good lead in this respect, and who make up the whole or part of that service, but there are many who do not. It is understandable, therefore, that it is very difficult to get a married man, especially a very young man recently married, to volunteer to give up his summer holidays for training in the Army. He feels that when he has finished his National Service liability there is no reason why he should do so.

I suggest that the Government might consider a scheme rather similar to that introduced for disabled ex-Service men whereby the employer would be asked to give special facilities to volunteers under similar conditions to those under which they were asked to employ a certain percentage of disabled ex-Service men. That might be regarded as impracticable, but I make the suggestion because I regard an efficient Reserve Army as vital to the defence of Europe. If we think today that we have a well-trained Reserve Army, we are deluding ourselves. I do not think that we have.

There are one or two minor suggestions which might be considered. If we are going to issue a walking-out uniform to emergency reservists at any time, the volunteer might be given the first issue. That is a small point, but there is no doubt that an attractive uniform plays a part in recruitment. I suggest also that Territorial Army headquarter facilities might be placed at the disposal of the Reservists so that during the year they can go to the canteen or the sergeants' mess or officers' mess in their locality and enjoy the hospitality of the Army and keep in touch with Army ways and developments during the intervening years.

Lastly, I should like to appeal to the Press. This problem of volunteers is not new. There is an old Army saying which refers to the adjectival inadvisability of volunteering for anything and with the development of national conscription I sometimes think that the volunteer spirit is beginning to die out. I hope that I am wrong. I should like to be proved wrong, and I should like the Press to help me prove myself wrong. I think that it was Oscar Wilde who said that if there is one thing worse than being talked about, it is not being talked about. That is something from which the Army Emergency Reserve suffers. It has not been talked about enough.

The Press could do a great deal in presenting the case to the public and calling for volunteers, and I hope that it will do so. If the general public were made aware of the really vital importance of a Reserve Army to the security of this nation, we might get the volunteers, employers might be prepared to play their part in giving facilities to the men to volunteer, and the wives and womenfolk might be persuaded to encourage the men to do so.

9.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison)

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) has embarked on a complicated theme and has carried me with him on to a complicated theme. He highlighted certain suggestions which I think arose from his own experience, but I think that it would not be unhelpful if I were to paint a slightly broader picture to begin with and come at a later stage to the particular points to which my hon. Friend was drawing attention.

When, after the war, we planned to reconstruct our auxiliary forces, that is, the Territorial Army and the Army Emergency Reserve—up to then known as the Supplementary Reserve—we were faced with a great many complicated problems. Firstly, the technical character of modern warfare and at the same time the immense extension of welfare, which has been going on all the time—rightly going on for the benefit of the soldier—brought into existence a multiplicity of services generally of a rather specialised and small type. They were things like mobile laundries, light-aid detachments, and the tyre repair units. There must be very few members of the general public who have any idea of the tremendous gamut of different organisations, both Regular and Reserve which exist at present. In addition, there are the more normal services, such as the Ordnance Corps, R.E.M.E., the Signals, the R.A.S.C., and so on. Some of these small units are destined in the event of an emergency to go with the Army overseas and others are destined or earmarked to stay at home.

One of our problems is how we are to gather together the relatively small numbers of individuals who do that specialised work and are scattered all over the United Kingdom from Land's End to John o'Groat's and weld them into a unit. It is quite a different matter when we have a large number of individuals with the same experience of warfare and the Army living closely concentrated. Then one can make headway on training. That was the first category with which we had to deal and the first problem with which we were presented. The second category might be described as the reinforcements we wanted—first-line reinforcements—for base Ordnance depots, command workshops and so on. The men who were earmarked for that rôle did not themselves form into units but were to be fitted into existing Regular units.

The third and much the biggest category was of those who were in neither of the other two categories either because they did not get trade training, or because the units were already full, or the geographical distances between them was such that they could not be fitted into T.A. units. In that category, known as A.E.R. II, there are such pools upon which we can call for first-line reinforcements for infantry, the R.A.C. and other combatant duties. My hon. Friend said that some only of the A.E.R.—as the Bills and Acts say, "hereafter to be referred to as reservists"—are destined to be part of the field force in one form or another, but it is almost the whole lot. I do not think we can say that one particular type is entitled to get a higher form of training than another, because ultimately most of them are to be fitted into some form of unit, either as reinforcements of the infantry, the R.A.C, or some of the other Services in the field.

With the exception of the volunteers, the Reserve consists of National Service men who are doing their part-time training. Naturally, we are anxious to get as many of these volunteers as we can—as my hon. Friend rightly said—because if a man can be persuaded to stay on after he has done his obligatory period of part-time service he automatically exhibits an interest and keenness in his training which make him a valuable individual. I wholeheartedly back up what my hon. Friend said about the importance and desirability of persuading these reservists to volunteer. We are making a little headway here, although it is not anything like what we want. The total of the Army Emergency Reserve is at present 110,000. Whereas in October, 1951, the figures for volunteers were 1,069 officers, 1,268 warrant officers and N.C.O's and 3,298 other ranks, on 1st October this year, there were 2,972 officers, 4,616 warrant officers and N.C.O's and 4,836 other ranks. That is a satisfactory increase, and what is particularly satisfactory, as I think my hon. Friend will notice, is that the biggest increase has taken place in the case of warrant officers and N.C.O's. These are exactly the types we want to have.

Turning to training in general, the reservist has to do, as in the Territorial Army, an obligatory 15 days annual training. In some cases they volunteer—they are not forced to do so—to do some extra part-time training in the form of going on courses or to training conferences. All this represents a pretty heavy headache to us, especially in the case of those who come into the third category. An enormous number of individuals are not earmarked for any particular task, they are earmarked for some arm or service and are looked after by the headquarters of their arm or service. They have no specific tasks for which they are already being trained, apart from the general training.

As the National Service men are passing out of their full-time service in ever-increasing numbers, the total which we are having to deal with is becoming formidable. How do we try to deal with the annual training of these 110,000 men? Let me take the category which I first mentioned, those reservists who are already in units or sub-units of Ordnance parks, R.E.M.E. light aid detachments, etc. They do their training under the auspices of, but are not absorbed into Regular units. The Regular units, so to speak, stand sponsor for the training and help them; they will train with their own personnel but will also get personnel lent by the Regular Army.

There are a few, and they must be volunteers, who do their training in B.A.O.R. because, as my hon. Friend has recognised, one of our greatest difficulties is that we are short of enough Regular parent units in this country to be able to shoulder all the responsibilities which we ask them to do all the time—Territorial Army, floods, strikes, etc. All kinds of odds and ends of jobs are landed on to the Army. A few of the reservists train with the Territorial Army but the great majority are not incorporated in units and are regarded, as I say, as first-line reinforcements who are trained with the Regulars.

My hon. Friend had some criticism to make of the equipment made available for the training of all these men. The majority of the categories which carry out their training are either with, or under the supervision of, Regular units. They will clearly get the same equipment as the Regular units have because in one case they are with the Regular units and are using their equipment, while in the second case they will normally use their own A.E.R. equipment, but this in its turn is drawn from equipment held for peace-time maintenance and is comparable to the mobilisation equipment.

Of course, equipment changes—tanks, wireless sets, vehicles, guns, etc.—and with the best will in the world it is not possible that the latest piece of equipment should always at once be available for all the units that go to make up the British active Army and Reserve Army. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognize that. Through the process of time much of this modern equipment gradually filters through—

Mr. John Hall

That is the theory, I have no doubt, but in fact the training equipment available even for a Regular unit is quite inadequate.

Mr. Hutchison

I do not know what my hon. Friend means by "inadequate," whether in quality or in quantity.

Mr. Hall

Insufficient in quantity.

Mr. Hutchison

That can be gone into, but I am informed that many of these units are not fully issued with equipment to which they are entitled, because they are not up to strength, and I think that is a reasonable way of looking at it. We cannot expect a unit greatly under strength to be issued with the same equipment as a unit fully up to strength, but I would be glad to have a talk with my hon. Friend about that to see if we can find any examples.

Even if what he says is true, my argument still applies, that we cannot get the latest form of whatever piece of equipment or weapon it is into the hands of everyone, even the whole of the Regular Army, at the same time. He may say that we are taking a prodigiously long time to do it, but that is another argument. It is not physically possible, for example, if we decide to change from Sten to Patchett guns, for every unit to have Patchett guns on the following Monday. Of course I am exaggerating and oversimplifying the matter, but it does take time to filter through. I think it must be agreed that we must give the Regular forces equipment, particularly those in action in places like Malaya or Korea, before we can afford to supply it elsewhere.

As regards the training of the R.A.O.C. in particular, we have had some difficulty in finding parent units to which to attach some of the Army Emergency Reserve units, because in fact these parent units are not in existence. So some of the training has had to be a little artificial, and it needed a good deal of imagination to get oneself into the true picture. But after all we have had to do that in a great many military exercises. Nothing, for example, could be more artificial than a telephone battle, but that is a perfectly well known, recognised and useful form of exercise. We are in fact organising a new system of training rather on the same type as applying to Territorial units. There will be unit training for a couple of years, then brigade training for one year, and finally divisional training.

My hon. Friend asks that these units should be used in divisional exercises. Most certainly that should be done and they have been and will be so used this year. It is valuable and necessary that Service units or sub-units of a Service should be given a chance of operating under the conditions in which they will be called upon to operate in time of war, and I am absolutely in agreement about that. In the past year we have trained about 100 R.A.O.C. units, workshop, stores section, laundry units, port units and "A" and "B" vehicle units. Reservists have been given training at Chilwell, which is a motor transport depot, at Bicester, which is a technical stores depot, and Didcot, which is a general stores depot.

I wish to come to the question of publicity. It is true that the A.E.R. is not sufficiently well known. Of course this to a certain extent stems from a sparseness of funds. But we have a pretty ambitious programme for the current year, including a series of Press advertisements appearing in three Sunday national papers and approximately 65 provincial papers. We are also producing new A.E.R. posters, and on the stands of the Royal Tournament, at Radio Olympia and the Amateur Radio Show there were posters featuring the A.E.R., Royal Signals and R.E.M.E. But anything which can be done to bring to the public notice these important "boffins" of the Reserve Army who are most valuable, most precious and who play a vital rôle in keeping a modern Army in the field—anything which can be done to show in full our appreciation of them would be immensely valuable.

The day has long since gone when an Army could saddle its horses or march off and live off the country. Nowadays we have to have an endless, complicated chain of organisations behind an Army to allow it to move and to provide the supplies of fuel, food and ammunition which it consumes in appalling quantities. It is part of this duty that the Army Emergency Reserve would in fact fulfil. They are immensely important.

There are some public-spirited organisations which have recognised that they have within themselves talent—talent in their ordinary civilian work of every day—which could be of value to the Army and to the Reserve in some form or another. Thus we have had the Automobile Association encouraging their members to join the Provost companies and this year they trained 230 strong at the headquarters of the Army Emergency Reserve Royal Military Police at Aldershot.

Then there is the Thomas Cook Travel Agency who have produced a Movement Control group which carried out its military training this year at the Embarkation Establishment at Harwich. If it is to these good folk something of a busman's holiday, at any rate they are patriotic busmen. Those are just two examples of the way in which organisations can turn the talent and the experience which is theirs to the benefit of the Army.

I hope that I have not left too much unanswered. I have answered the main questions and I do not think I have missed much. My hon. Friend talked about fatigues and about trying to relieve the Reserves during their training. I do not think that is possible. Each unit has to stand on its own feet as regards fatigues. Who will do them otherwise? We cannot expect National Service men or Regular soldiers to do them, other wise National Service will become less popular or more unpopular—

Mr. John Hall

I appreciate that, but I suggested that perhaps a far greater amount of training could be done under field conditions. Will my hon. Friend refer to my suggestion that the third year's training should take the form of a mobilisation exercise?

Mr. Hutchison

I should like to look into that question. It is a big commitment to make on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend is right. Practical training rather than technical training is probably, in a fortnight, more valuable. At the moment the plan is that in most units the men spend the first week on general military training, in musketry, on ranges, and so on. But I should like to look into that matter. It is a little difficult for one who is not a technical soldier to be able to give answers on these questions of detail. My hon. Friend knows far more about this than I do. Perhaps he will allow me to look into that question. I will have a talk with my advisers and see what they have to say.

I underline the fact that these reservists are paid for the period of training which they do each year during the 15 day obligatory period of training. They get the ordinary Army rates of pay and marriage allowance during the period when they are temporary soldiers. In addition, the volunteers get annual bounties which vary between £9 and £50 a year. Those who get £50 a year are very special technical individuals and, in fact, they do not have to do much training either. If this was more widely known I think there would be an appreciation of just how generous these offers are.

I hope that my words, and the words of my hon. Friend, may persuade some who were doubtful or hesitant to volunteer to continue, after part-time service is over, in the Army Emergency Reserve. But I think it will be recognised—I certainly do—that as time passes, the organisation which can persuade and bring influence to bear upon the Army Emergency reservist to volunteer after he has come out of his full-time service with the active Army, is the active Army unit in which he is serving.

In the future, there is going to be practically no other source of recruitment, and it is hoped that while a man is in the Regular Army doing his National Service, where we trust he will be well treated, the prospect of continuing that training for 15 days each year for a certain number of years will appear to him to be not only a patriotic act but something that is not too distasteful.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Half-past Nine o'Clock