HC Deb 15 March 1956 vol 550 cc599-604

Question again proposed.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Before we were interrupted, I was asking a question about the Army Emergency Reserve, referred to in page 31 of the Estimates. I should like information about these three sentences: The Mobile Defence Corps was formed on 1st April, 1955, and provides the second echelon of Civil Defence. If the Mobile Defence Corps is the second echelon, could we have some information about the first echelon of Civil Defence and how exactly the Reserve will operate? We are told: It will comprise 36 battalions. A Headquarters of the Mobile Defence Corps has been established to deal with their administration. 5.45 p.m.

I should like to know how far this Headquarters administration is facing the problem with Which, presumably, it is supposed to deal. What are the thirty-six battalions to do? Will they cooperate with the civil defence forces and are they to take part in the organisation of the twelve million evacuees? We have been told that twelve million people would be evacuated in an emergency and I was told this week that one million were to be evacuated in Scotland. I should like to know exactly how this Mobile Defence Corps will operate, whether its activities will be co-ordinated with Civil Defence and exactly what kind of activity is contemplated for the headquarters of the Corps.

Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

This year's figures in Vote 2, and particularly subhead E—"Training of the Territorial Army"—show a noticeable reduction. This is due to the reduced structure of the Territorial Army which has been announced by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Defence. I should, however, like to put to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a point concerning the training programme as now outlined and to suggest that there is danger that the sum which is allocated may not be well spent.

I say that because under the new arrangement one year only is to be taken by the National Service men for training by the Territorial Army. There is a danger that we will get the worst of both worlds because the Territorial Army, which up to now has been responsible for training National Service men over a longer period and has had National Service men within its ranks, will now have them for such a short period that it is extremely unlikely that the National Service men will regard themselves as part of the Territorial units or that the money for which this provision is made in the Estimates will be well spent.

Another aspect is that psychologically the National Service men, having been trained by the Regular Army under excellent conditions, might as a result of this rather piecemeal method of training form a poorer opinion of the Army than would have been the case had they come out after their period of Regular Service training. I suggest that my hon. Friend should look at the training plan closely. A smaller amount of money spent on building up a purely voluntary Territorial Army on the old system would probably be a better method than spending this greater amount of money on a Territorial Army which will continue to have a National Service commitment but of a reduced nature.

The Government could argue that this is similar to the commitment for the Z Reservists introduced some years ago by the previous Administration. The justification for the Z scheme—and, I assume, the justification for the present scheme—was that it associated men with definite Territorial Army units. I can appreciate that requirement, but whereas the previous Administration brought it in at a time when it was very necessary to have a quick mobilisation scheme I do not think that there is that necessity at present.

If it is suggested that this arrangement will strengthen the Territorial Army, I submit that probably it will not but that, on the contrary, it will have the opposite effect. If, on the other hand, the reason for it is that men must be associated with Territorial units to provide an effective mobilisation scheme, I suggest that this is not the type of mobilisation scheme we need at present. If instead of this arrangement my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would study closer association between Territorial units and their Regular counterparts and made certain that the men knew which Territorial units were involved, I suggest that he would achieve the exact results at which he is aiming in these proposals.

I know that this is a matter of my opinion against my hon. Friend's, backed by experts at the War Office, but I should like him to consider the point and keep an open mind on this proposal, certainly for the coming year. If at the end of the year my fears prove justified, I hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared next year to propose that this scheme be changed and the Vote again reduced to have a purely voluntary Territorial Army in the old style, with National Service men earmarked for Territorial units but not actually sent to them. The Territorial units, however, should have a very clear idea who the men are so that they can recruit them on a voluntary Territorial basis.

On the question of the Army Emergency Reserve and the Home Guard, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and I are, for once, on the same point—probably with the same end in view but for different purposes. It seems to me that the money here expended is being expended on three different arms each with a similar end in view. The Territorial Army, the Army Emergency Reserve and the Home Guard are all concerned primarily with home defence commitments. The point made by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire indicates that there is a certain amount of confusion in people's minds. They feel that the whole of the home defence picture is now somewhat confused.

I believe that the decision to appoint a commander-in-chief for the home front, responsible for these home commitments, is of the greatest possible importance. The Under-Secretary of State for War would do well to ask him to look at this important problem in the course of the year and make recommendations. If we are to have effective expenditure of money on home defence, one of the most important things to do is to change the national psychological climate on the home defence front. If we look at home defence as a sort of stirrup-pump operation not fully operational, the expenditure of this money will not be justified and we shall not have the type of home defence system we require in modern conditions.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire referred to civil defence, but I and the Under-Secretary of State for War would be out of order if we discussed that now. I believe, however, that this Estimate is closely related to the organisation of a civil defence force on an operational scale over the coming years. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at the Estimate with a view to greater co-ordination of the home defence forces.

I suggest quite seriously to my hon. Friend that the expenditure now incurred on these three separate arms would be better incurred if he considered the abolition of the Emergency Reserve and the Home Guard and the total concentration of the whole force under the Territorial Army. I would include, in particular, the new mobile defence battalions because these also are from a psychological point of view out on a limb. They are separate projects on which quite considerable sums have been spent. I suggest that my hon. Friend should look at the whole commitment with special reference to home defence operation, and consider presenting to the House in the Memorandum on the Army Estimates next year a very much more definite plan for the reserve forces within the home defence picture.

Mr. F. Maclean

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked what is the purpose of the Mobile Defence Corps. He must know that. It has been explained over and over again both in the House and in the Press. It will engage in rescue work in support of civil defence. He asked me to enlarge on what civil defence is going to do. That would be out of order. Therefore, I will now pass to the extremely interesting speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey).

My hon. Friend speaks with great authority—no one speaks with more—on the Territorial Army and on the reserve forces as a whole. I assure him that his extremely interesting suggestions will be very carefully studied. I was very glad to hear him say in an earlier debate that he thought there was a great future for the reserve Army. I wholeheartedly agree with him. What is more, it would be a great mistake to think, as has been sometimes suggested, that the fighting days of the Territorial Army are over. It is very difficult indeed to foretell with any accuracy what course any future war will take, and the next one is not likely to prove an exception to that rule.

That is one of the reasons why, as my right hon. Friend said in presenting the Army Estimates, it would be folly for us to be left with untrained reserves in this country. That is our principal reason at present for retaining the one camp for National Service men. It is, of course, quite true that the emphasis is no longer as heavy as it was on the need for large reserves of trained men, but we have to be ready for all kinds of eventualities and there is no doubt at all that, for the reasons which my right hon. Friend gave, even one camp is of use for the purpose of associating them with their units. That purpose would not be served to the same extent by simply earmarking them and having them posted on paper to a definite unit. It is most important that they should see each other and should know how they fit into the machine.

6.0 p.m.

My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of doing away with the Army Emergency Reserve and merging the whole thing—the T.A., the A.E.R., the Mobile Defence Corps and the Home Guard—into a single Home Defence Force. The possibility of doing that is obviously one of the problems which the newly-appointed Commander-in-Chief, U.K. Land Forces, will be studying. All that I can say at the moment is that this is a transitional period. Quite obviously, there would be great advantage in having what my hon. Friend suggested, namely, an all-volunteer Territorial Army, and I know that there are a lot of Territorials, and for that matter a lot of Regular soldiers, who feel that it would be a good thing, but at present we need National Service men to make up the numbers in the Territorial Army units, especially those which are scheduled to go overseas in case of war. We feel that one year's training—one camp—is the minimum required to keep the National Service men up to date.

We have had very big changes in the last year or eighteen months, and I think it is possible that in the future we shall have more big changes. Events are moving very fast and we are determined to keep up with them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £16,370,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the Reserve Forces (to a number not exceeding 400,000, all ranks, including a number not exceeding 385,000 other ranks), Territorial Army (to a number not exceeding 306,000, all ranks), Home Guard (to a number not exceeding 1,900, 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, 1957.

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