HC Deb 10 March 1960 vol 619 cc756-65

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £20,140,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expenses of the Reserve Forces (to a number not exceeding 337,500, all ranks, including a number not exceeding 325,000 other ranks), Territorial Army (to a number not exceeding 333,865, 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, 1961.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Wigg

In the newspapers which are close to the Minister responsible for the Government's information services, there were authoritative reports a few weeks ago saying that the Government were contemplating reorganising the reserve Services. I had quite a bunch of Press cuttings on the subject. I expected to see something on this subject in the Defence White Paper, because it is clear that the reserve organisation, based as it is at present upon Class A and the subsidiary reserve class, is falling out of date.

Those hon. Members who say that we will never again get mass mobilisation, because there will not be time and so on, are probably right and we are spending a great deal of money on Reservists whom we may never need. Apart from the political advantage which might be gained from a reorganisation of the reserve forces, it is about time that the Government made some statement of policy.

It is clear that each of the three Services has a different problem. The Royal Air Force, for example, has no mobilisation problem, because it can expand only in relation to the expansion of its equipment. The Army, on the other hand, has a problem if trouble arises. We got into difficulties two or three years ago in Jordan, for example. We were almost at the end of our tether, as were the Americans, and if things had got bad, we would have had to call on Class A Reservists.

This is a useful opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to tell us whether the Government have in mind any proposals for the reorganisation of the reserve forces. Such a reorganisation would undoubtedly require legislation and it may well be that there is not time in this Session, but I should be very pleased if the hon. Gentleman could tell us what the Government's intentions are. I should be very happy to learn that a change is being considered, if not for this then for the next Session, and that we can look forward to new legislation to bring the present reserve structure more into line with modern needs.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

I agree with every word the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said about laying down a policy for the reserve forces. That was gone into fairly fully last night and I hope that a definite rôle will be given.

I should first like to express pleasure at seeing that the cost of training the Territorial Army in the forthcoming year will be larger than it was last year and that this is largely due to an increase in the number of volunteers. That brings with it increases in pay, and, thank goodness, increases in the training allowance which will be very welcome to every Territorial Army soldier.

There is another thing which gives me no pleasure. That is the large increase in the grants for local associations. It is a large increase, so much so that the grants to local associations this year are almost as large as the expenditure on the training of the Territorial Army last year. I ask my hon. Friend to look closely into the expenditure on these Territorial Army associations. I consider that they are a complete anachronism. For years the Territorial Army has been marching nicely in step with the staff provided by the Regular Army. Despite that, it has been a cripple as a result of a third leg which consists of these local associations.

Let us look at what happens. These associations were started many years ago for the purpose of providing good public relations for the Territorial Army, and to take an interest in its welfare. They have done that job very well throughout the years. The members, or at least the interested members, have consisted mainly of retired officers of the Regular and Territorial Armies and they have done good work, but since the war there has been built up a tremendous organisation which is unnecessary now.

I make no apology to my hon. Friend for bringing this up because I have been preaching this all over the country for years. I made myself extremely un- popular on this point while I was a serving officer, and my views, and the views of many Territorial Army officers, are well known on this subject.

Before the war, the unit which I commanded until a short while ago, was administered by a Territorial Army association which had one part-time secretary, who was a local solicitor. He found his own office and his own staff. His salary, inclusive of everything, was £365 per annum. I do not know whether it was a coincidence that he was paid £1 per day for the job, but he had to find his own assistants and his own office.

That association now has a full-time secretary who is a retired brigadier. I do not know what he is paid, but it is fair to assume that it is in excess of the sum paid to the secretary before the war, despite the fall in the value of money. He has a full-time assistant who is a retired Regular Army quartermaster who receives a four-figure salary. There is also a retired R.Q.M.S. working with him and a variety of highly-paid bodies —I am not sure how many, because I was naturally not selected as one of the military members of the association, and I am rather out of touch with what it is doing. What this association costs I hate to think, but I find that the first purpose of these grants is to pay for the administration of the headquarters of these associations.

I suggest that my hon. Friend should look closely into this. He could cut down enormously on the vast amount of money being spent on these useless headquarters which serve little or no useful purpose.

To justify my statements, I should like to consider the activities of these associations. Their principal duty is that of providing buildings for the Territorial Army. They spend a great deal of time on doing that. They erect the buildings and they employ local architects to design them. The secretary of the association with great regularity runs up to command headquarters, and also frequently visits the War Office, in connection with the erection of buildings.

Even if it is necessary to provide a garage there have to be all sorts of approvals and an architect has to be employed. It would be so much easier for the unit, which has the specification for a garage to which it is entitled—a yardstick as it is called—to go to district headquarters, find the C.R.E., and say, "What about supplying us with a Mark VI garage?" The C.R.E. has the staff. He is a capable man and he can do it quite well. A vast amount of money is spent on administration and architects' fees, not to mention the builder's charges. The Territorial associations are regarded as fair game by many people. A great deal of money could be saved by putting that work under the staff which already exists in the Regular Army set-up.

The next most important thing that they look after are the ranges. This is a very ancient arrangement. I do not know how far back it goes. There are two kinds of rifle range throughout the country, one provided by the Regular Army and the other, which includes some very ancient ranges upon which a great deal of money is spent, belonging to the Territorial Army, under the administration of the local associations. The Regular Army ranges are looked after by the Regular Army staff at district headquarters and the other ranges are looked after by the local associations. This is a complete duplication of effort, which is quite unnecessary.

The Estimates show that the associations are responsible for a number of other duties, including medical examinations of Territorial soldiers, the payment of civilian staff at Territorial headquarters, the payment of training and travelling allowances of Territorial soldiers, and the provision of clothing. If a Territorial soldier is being examined by the doctor he is sent to the doctor by the local company commander—a Territorial officer. The doctor examines the man and sends the bill to the local company commander, who sends it to his adjutant, who pays it and passes it through his books. He then has to send it on to the local association, which keeps a completely duplicate set of books. I cannot understand why that cannot all be done through the paymaster in the ordinary way. Why cannot the doctors be paid by the adjutant, through the ordinary pay channels.

Exactly the same thing applies to the civilian staff at unit headquarters. They are paid by the adjutant, who has to keep a separate set of books, while a completely duplicate set is kept across the road in the local association office. The same applies to training and travelling allowances. Comparatively small sums are involved. The adjutant must pay them, and he must keep a separate imprest account and completely separate books, in which he enters these comparatively small sums which he could deal with quite easily in the ordinary way.

But the most ridiculous situation concerns clothing. Every major Territorial unit has a full-time Regular quartermaster, who is considered capable of dealing with ordnance and with every kind of store except uniforms. For some reason which I cannot understand he has to go to the super-duper quartermaster—the assistant secretary of the local association—to draw his clothing. The quartermaster keeps one set of ledgers for all clothing and equipment, and an exactly similar set is kept in the office of the local association.

I do not think that people realise that all this duplication goes on, and I would ask my hon. Friend earnestly to look into this matter. A tremendous number of vested interests are involved. Many jobs are given to ex-officers and ex-warrant officers. They are all very estimable gentlemen, and I hope that they will get proper employment, but I suggest that they are quite misemployed in local associations, and that a close investigation into the affairs of these local associations, with a view to making drastic economies, is long overdue.

9.15 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

As I think my hon. Friend knows, the county regiment for the Isle of Ely is the Cambridgeshire Regiment, which has had many changes in its rôle since the war. I think it is now firmly settled on an infantry basis. I am a little concerned about what is to happen regarding the rô1e of this regiment in connection with civil defence. There is a sort of mobile column in which I imagine that the Cambridgeshire Regiment might play a part in the event of an emergency, but I think we are entitled to know a little more about how the War Office and the Home Office visualise a tie-up between civilian and military organisations in an emergency.

I do not begrudge a penny of the money we pay to the Territorial Army. Recruiting for the Territorial Army is first-class and its morale, particularly that of the Cambridgeshire Regiment, is high. It is a source of gratification to me that the principal recruiting area for the Cambridgeshire Regiment lies in my constituency and not in that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Gerald Howard). We do not wish in any way to upset that state of affairs, but as Parliamentarians it is our duty to find out how it is visualised that the Territorial Army would be employed in the future.

As I reminded the Committee during the debates on the Air Estimates, we have a rocket base in the Isle of Ely. Whatever may be the association between Regular and civil forces in other areas I am convinced that wherever these bases are sited the importance of civil defence becomes considerable. I am already in touch with the Home Office about its side of the responsibilities for Civil Defence, but I wish to make clear to my hon. Friend that there exists considerable disquiet—I put it no higher—about the present state of readiness regarding civil defence. There is an appalling atmosphere of uncertainty about what should happen in the event of an emergency.

I do not know how much information is outside the bounds of secrecy and can be conveyed to me by my hon. Friend. I appreciate that there may be special arrangements which must be kept as confidential as possible. But whether we are interested from a Parliamentary point of view to ensure that the minds of our constituents are set at rest or whether it is a question of advising our sons and heirs to go into the Territorial Army, it is important that we should all know what rô1e is visualised for the Territorial Army.

If the Territorial Army is to be used to provide front-line troops in overseas theatres of war, it will need to be equipped with modern weapons so that it can play its part in the general arrangements as a fully equipped army. If, on the other hand, its principal rôle is to be that of home security, perhaps we could avoid spending quite so much on providing weapons which otherwise would be necessary.

Among the illustrations in the Memorandum published with the Estimates is one of a new machine-gun. I know that in the Isle of Ely the Territorial Army is equipped with Vickers guns, a weapon with which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prio-Palmer) and I had some experience in bygone days. I realise that under Vote 2 we are not discussing the cost of weapons but if we are to recruit Territorial troops we should have in mind before doing so what sort of rôle they will play, and with what equipment they will be provided. We should also like to know whether the money is being spent as wisely as possible.

Whenever the Army changes from one form of armament to another there are some spare parts and more obsolescent material is available. Before we decide exactly how to arm the Territorial Army, we have to consider very carefully what its rôle is to be. If its rôle is to be primarily concerned at home, it is quite possible that we might save by providing weapons which would not be effective if it were engaged overseas, but nevertheless might be most suitable for what would possibly be required in keeping law and order at home.

I realise that my hon. Friend has very little direct responsibility for what the Home Office might decide over Civil Defence, but I hope that he can give some indication whether the Territorial Army is to be primarily designed to play its part in keeping the homeland secure in the event of war or emergency, or if it is to be employed overseas and, if it is to be employed at home, where it is to be employed and to what extent the installation of static rocket bases in this country will alter that particular rôle. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that I am entitled to ask that question because of the installation in my constituency.

I wish to say a word or two about the Army Cadet Force. We have raised this matter from time to time in previous Estimates debates. It has always seemed to me that one of the most valuable things about the Army Cadet Force would be if a young boy who had done well in the Cadet Force could get some benefit for having done so well when he joined the Regular Army. We regard cadet forces, both in the Royal Air Force and in the Army, as a recruiting ground for Regular service. It has always seemed to me that not enough recognition has been given in the past to achievement in the cadet force when the man concerned becomes a recruit in the Regular Forces. As this is the centenary year of the Army Cadet Force—on which I think we should congratulate all concerned—it might be a very appropriate year in which to make some particular gesture on this matter.

Where a boy has shown considerable powers of leadership and so forth he might be able to receive some priority when he first joins his Regular unit. The work which the Army Cadet Force is to do should be considered with the general advancement of scientific interest which is taking place in the Regular Forces. I hope we shall not keep them merely as a rather good way of disciplining young men. We should arouse their interest in the most modern weapons and equipment of the Army. If we do not do that I am sure that in the end support for the Army Cadet Force will gradually fall away on the ground that it is becoming archaic and obsolescent. That would be a great pity.

I hope we shall keep headmasters of public schools, grammar schools and high schools throughout the country well in touch with all this. There was a trend not so very long ago for some headmasters to say, "What was possible in times of National Service is no longer possible for our cadet forces. Now National Service is ending, we can cut down on school cadet forces". It would be tragic if that were to happen. I hope that my hon. Friend can give a satisfactory report on that matter because a few years ago, with the prospect of National Service ending, there was a dangerous trend creeping into the minds of headmasters who ought to have known much better.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. H. Fraser

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raised the problem of the reorganisation of the Reserve. He raised it in the widest possible sense and referred to the other Services. This must be a matter for the Ministry of Defence. Obviously this is a problem which must concern us all, because by 1963 at the end of National Service our Reserve will be dropping. Clearly, something will have to be done in the next year or so. I thank the hon. Gentleman for using his usual perspicacity in these matters. It is a problem which undoubtedly lies ahead of us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) paid some compliments to the War Office for returning to the fifteen days training period, amongst other things, and then made a fairly slashing attack on the local associations. About three years ago, a report on the Territorial Associations, called the Maclean Report was published. I do not know if my hon. Friend has read that. The Report exonerated the associations from most of the allegations which he made against them. I shall be happy to go into any detail he thinks it worth while bringing before me, but in general we must stand by that Report, which was thorough. It went into the whole field of these associations and their activities and found that, on the whole, they did a remarkably good and useful job.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) talked about the Territorial Army, and the Cambridgeshire Regiment in particular. Some of the things he said cut right across my field and are matters more for Civil Defence and the Home Office than for me. I can give him the assurance that we are seeing that the military organisation of United Kingdom Land Forces is being strictly paralleled with the Civil Defence organisation. I do not suppose that he would expect me to tell him this evening what the rôle of the Cambridgeshire Regiment is. I must confess that I do not know it. Doubtless it is fitting in with the general pattern.

My hon. and gallant Friend then discussed role and equipment. Many of the things he said showed great wisdom and appreciation of the problem. As I said last night, it would not be appropriate at this stage to try to tie the Territorial Army down to too strict an interpretation of role. As I tried to say then, one of the problems of war today and of understanding war is the insurance against improbability. One of the great uses of this gallant and powerful body of men, the Territorial Forces, is that they are prepared to put their hand to almost anything. We will see as the years go by that more equipment which flows from the Regular Army—which, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, we are still in the midst of equipping—is available to the Territorial Army.

My hon. and gallant Friend then talked about the A.C.F. It would be an excellent idea if we could do something on the lines of his suggestion. There are problems about the actual implementation of his idea, but I am sure that there should be some method of seeing that new men are documented when they come forward so that commanding officers of units can understand what excellent recruits they have. It is impossible to go beyond that with any more formalised system.

My hon. and gallant Friend then discussed the leadership of the A.C.F. Here again, I can report that we are now using Frimley Park, where there is instruction and where the A.C.F. and the T.A. are working more closely together, which is all to the good.

Lastly, my hon. and gallant Friend talked about schools. We are trying always to improve our relationship with schools of all sorts in this country. In general, we are making some progress. Certainly the standard of our liaison has improved greatly in the last year.

Question put and agreed to.


That a sum, not exceeding £20,140,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expenses of the Reserve Forces (to a number not exceeding 337,500, all ranks, including a number not exceeding 325,000 other ranks), Territorial Army (to a number not exceeding 333,865, 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 1961.