HC Deb 15 July 1966 vol 731 cc1939-48

Amendments made: In page 21, line 27, at end insert: 5. In section 11(3) for the words "as soon as may be" there shall be substituted the word "forthwith".

In line 38, at end insert: and in section 6(1) for the words ' as soon as may be ' there shall be substituted the word ' forthwith'".

In page 22, line 4, at end insert: 12. In section 6(1) for the words "as soon as may be" there shall be substituted the word "forthwith".

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

1.13 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)

Before we conclude our deliberations on the Bill, I draw the attention of the House to Clause 3(1) which states: The royal naval volunteer reserve is hereby abolished". Hon. Members know that this is a formal disbandment because the Royal Naval Reserve, which is very much alive, has already taken on the functions previously carried out by the R.N.V.R., will continue its work and will no doubt do an equally good job. Nevertheless, this one, short, crisp sentence marks the end of a great and glorious chapter in Britain's naval history. The R.N.V.R.—or "Wavy Navy"—has often been described as comprising those who came in during war time to teach the Royal Navy how to carry out its business. I invite hon. Members to pause for a moment at the graveside of the R.N.V.R., to lift our hats and pay tribute to the many thousands of officers and ratings who, during two of the greatest wars in history, brought imperishable honour to the initials R.N.V.R.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

This Measure was heralded as giving us a major reform of the Reserve position, and it certainly is a major reform because its main effect is that the Territorial Army is being seriously slashed, simply to have money.

The Minister said earlier that he recently visited units of the Territorial Army. I take it that he visited them during the day and did not risk staying for the evening. I say that because he came back with his trousers on. The right hon. Gentleman took the precaution of visiting those units which are moving into T.A.V.R.II. I assure him that he would not have found himself very popular had he visited other units, which still feel bitter about the way they have been treated by the Government.

The real key to the position lies in extending the liability of Class A of the Regular Army Reserve for the whole of the reservists' period of service. Little attention has been given to this, although it is a major reform. Pre-proclamation reservists—now called pre-Queen's Order Reservists—are welcome to any Government because it means that they can quite quietly be called up from their civilian occupations and moved into the front line without drawing attention or publicity to the fact that that is happening.

The difficulty has always been to obtain a large enough number of pre-proclamation reservists and here, by one stroke, a very large number of them are being provided for the future by making the Class A of the Regular Army Reserve the normal reservists and virtually abolishing Class B. It seems so obvious that one might ask why it has not been done before. The answer is because of the fear of the effect that it would have on recruiting.

In the Navy, Army and Air Force Reserve Act, 1964, the step was taken to extend the possibility of this to three years; that a man should be liable to serve for up to three years under Class A of the Regular Army Reserve. An undertaking was given, however, that the Army would not carry out that provision to the full but, if necessary, would do so only on new engagements after that date, and then for two years on Class A, thereafter moving the reservists into Class B.

It must be realised that this is a heavy liability. After all, it means that a man who has left the Colours and has gone back to civilian life is liable to be tapped on the shoulder and told, "Do not tell a soul about this, but we want you back". It is reasonable for this to happen for a period of one or two years, but for it to go on for perhaps six or nine years is a serious liability on a reservist and I suggest that men will think very carefully before taking on this extra commitment.

I greatly fear the effect of all this on recruiting. We know already that recruiting into the Regular Army is extremely unsatisfactory and I fear it will become a great deal more unsatisfactory with the introduction of this reform. It has been forced on the Government who, to save money on the Territorial Army, have lost a great deal of their Reserve strength elsewhere. This can be instanced in the T.A.E.R., the "Ever-Readies", a large element of which e; to be slashed. This is not surprising, because out of the reduced Territorial Army it will be difficult to provide the number of "Ever-Readies" who could be provided by the Territorial Army in the past.

I regret the provision in the Bill that, within the Territorial Army, units shall be divided between volunteer and home service forces. It would have been much better had the liabilities of volunteer and home service forces existed within the same unit, so that a man could have selected the liability he felt able to undertake, while still remaining within his own unit. As it is, the Bill provides that a man who wants to undertake more or less than the full liability has to move. The real essence of the Territorial Army is its comradeship. It is a most excellent club. That feature is undermined by the Bill.

This Measure provides a framework for damaging the Territorial Army and the Regular Army. Once this Measure is enacted, the framework will pass to the Ministers, with whom will lie the decision whether or not to do this damage. Let us hope that they will not do the damage I fear.

1.21 p.m.

Mr. Ennals

I do not share the pessimism of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) about this Bill's future. When this Measure has passed into law I believe that in retrospect it will be seen to provide a long overdue and necessary reorganisation. Like my hon. Friend the Minister, I have visited Territorial Army units, where I have found that many people recognise that change is overdue, and welcome it. I did not at all find the spirit in the Territorial Army described by the hon. Gentleman.

Since the White Paper was presented in December and the Bill was published in April, there have been changes. There has been a great deal of consultation with all those involved, including industry, the Territorial Army associations, the trade unions, and so on, while in Committee we have tried to meet many of the points that have been put forward. Although 1 regret some of the things said by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead today, I welcome the fact that this Bill has now passed substantially out of the region of party controversy.

When I moved the Second Reading of this Bill I was chided for referring to the extravagance of the language then used by the Opposition, but in Committee, and again this morning, we have been able to take a constructive approach to this important Measure. Far from being patronising, I greatly appreciate the very constructive approach of hon. and right hon. Members in Committee. Many hon. Members on both sides have had a great deal of experience in the Territorial Army, and they have given that experience to the Committee. I believe that the Bill is all the better for it.

I believe that we shall have a reserve that is better trained and better equipped, more compact, and with a clearer role. It will be the modern reserve that is required to support a modern army. There are inevitably difficulties in any change. In all walks of life there are some who resent change at all. That is, perhaps, too often to be found in many aspects of British society today. But the spirit with which commanding officers, officers and men of the Territorial Army have responded to the changing pattern and, as the Minister and I have seen in the camps we have visited, have signed their declarations of intent, is extremely encouraging for the future.

Not only in the units visited by the Minister but in other units, a high proportion of the personnel now in camp are indicating that they want to join the T. & A.V.R.II, and I believe that many who may not be found a place there will want to give their service in the T. & A.V.R.III. In the camps I have visited, attendance and morale have been high, there has been a high standard of efficiency and discipline, and many of the uncertainties of the past have been removed as the issues before us have been clarified. I therefore believe that we shall have no difficulty in finding all the recruits we need for the Reserve we are now establishing. The Government are determined to ensure the success of this Reserve. We believe in this reorganisation, and will do everything in our power to make it successful.

A big responsibility will fall on commanding officers taking over new or reorganised units, and a heavy responsibility also will fall on the commanding officers of the new Territorial units, whose role is less easy to define. With smaller buildings, less training and less equipment, those units will present a challenge to leadership.

We hope that once the Bill is passed into law we shall secure the full support of the trade unions, the employers, the civic authorities, and all who can do so much to make a success of the new Reserve. We hope that the T. & A.V.R.II and T. & A.V.R.III will get off to a fine start, and that there will be genuine and enthusiastic support in this House for the outcome of our long deliberations.

1.27 p.m.

Mr. Kershaw

I very much welcome what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles). During our debate so far, it has been natural that we should have given far more consideration to the position of the Army than to that of the other Services, because the Army is so much more affected. Except for passing reference to a shadow reserve of the Navy, what my hon. and gallant Friend said is the first reference we have had to the R.N.V.R., and I heard it with great pleasure.

We are about to bid farewell for the time being to this Measure. We on this side have done our best to improve it. I do not think that party controversy is entirely eliminated, because we retain doubts, but we have done our best to help in Committee, and will do our best to help outside the House, to make the Bill a success. We must do that, because it is the best Bill and the only Bill we have.

We still regret various things in it. I share the regret expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) that it has made a difference between "territorial" and "volunteer". Those words appear separately, and this separation enshrines—and, I fear, petrifies —the difference between the various types of reserve. We should have preferred an organisation which would have had as a main feature a system whereby one tier of the Reserves would have enriched and nourished the next tier—sharing the halls, the training periods, the badges and the communal life which had been an integral part of the Territorial Army, and which up to now has done much for training and morale. We fear that the disappearance of all that to some extent will be harmful. We believe that, if such a system had been adopted, it would have avoided the disappearance of many famous regiments and units, and would also have avoided the almost surgical shock which the voluntary spirit suffered by the hasty and ill-judged decisions of the Government, especially those of 29th July last.

We still feel that a system whereby the "Ever-Readies" have a six-month liability and the T. & A.V.R.II a liability of 12 months is illogical. It will be very hard to explain it to employers. The Minister contends that 12 months is the worst case, and that as, up to now, the Territorial Army has had an unlimited liability, people will not be put off by the new 12-month liability, but I believe that employers will plan on the basis of the worse case-12 months—and that it will be sensible for them to do so.

I cannot follow the Minister in his argument that it will be units which will be sent away and that 12 months is the minimum period in which they can make themselves efficient. I hope that it will be units and they also would like it, but I fear that there will have to be individuals or very small sub-units, because one cannot think that these slots will be so convenient that units will be able to go without change. If there is no call-up, of course the attitude of employers may change just as it did over the Territorial Army, but it would be very optimistic to think that this will be the case.

The Regular Army is under considerable strain today and this Bill is designed to facilitate a partial call-out. It is to make it very much easier than it was before and one must therefore assume that it would be used in that way. We have our reservations about it, and it would be true to say that we believe it will work only provided it is not used.

I like very much the change in the title of the home service units, I hope that these units will be successful. I confess that the experience of the Minister of State over the week-end when he visited a unit where one out of 130 gunners volunteered for T. & A.V.R.III does not make me think that the difficulties will be overcome very quickly. The training which these units will have is not sufficient. An eight-day camp, four training days and 27 drills is not enough for efficiency after this generation of the T.A. is over. The equipment is too little and entirely too old-fashioned. A unit cannot be relied upon to do a military job unless it has its own communications. To be mobile it must have wireless sets and cross-country vehicles. Plenty of the simple equipment of which I am talking, not of course of first-class type but of a simple type, is available and could be provided.

Will the Government see that as soon as possible these new units engage in exercises for training to see that they can carry out their job? If the Government find that they are hampered by lack of equipment for training, will they come to the House and say that they want more money? I am sure that they will get co-operation from this side of the House.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) referred to the county associations, which are very important. We look forward keenly to seeing the regulations which the Secretary of State may make on representations, about the Territorial Councils. Up to now the details have been very meticulously provided. This Bill gives the Secretary of State carte blanche in this matter. I emphasise again the vital importance of adequate local representation on county associations.

We are grateful for what has been done about charities. In Committee we found the problem a good deal more complicated than the Government or we thought it would be. The changes which have been made are very welcome. If, however, even now the Government find that more flexibility is necessary and they come back for more powers, those powers will be given willingly.

In general it will be seen that I am not very pleased with this Bill. I believe it was born in haste and ignorance which inflicted unnecessary damage on the T.A. volunteer spirit. The existing Territorial Army could have been used as the basis for the reorganisation which I agree ought to have been made. We could have had a better force than we are having for the same cost.

The fundamental error which the Government have made is to envisage that only one type of warfare will ever take place. That sort of assumption could be made only by an armchair strategist and that fiction could be held only by a professional lecturer. We have all learned over the past years that the one thing about war which is certain is that it is always uncertain. Nevertheless, I think the Minister has done his personal best, within the limits imposed upon him by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State, to make the Bill workable and a success. We wish the Reserve Forces, naval and R.A.F. as well as Army, every success in the new organisation.

1.37 p.m.

Mr. Reynolds

A number of statements have been made by the Opposition. Most of them were made for the record and it is not necessary for me to prolong the debate by answering them because we have discussed them at various stages of the Bill, but I wish to reply to some other points.

I was asked if home defence units would get training as rapidly as possible so that they would be effective with their equipment and the training days provided for them. I can assure the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) that it would be our intention to watch closely during the first 12 months to see how these units work. I hope that in future debates on the Estimates in the next year or two the Committee and the House will pay a great deal of attention to these matters. We shall have an idea then of how the units are working and of their effectiveness.

I do not agree that we could have had a better force for the same cost. We could have had a different force, but probably the same idea of hon. Members opposite of a better force would be one with more teeth arms units, whereas the forces we are setting up are those actually required to meet known commitments. This country cannot provide for absolutely everything. We are providing to meet the kind of things which hon. Members opposite when they were in office provided for. In this respect we have not altered the rules, but the opinions of hon. Members opposite have changed. They never provided to meet every contingency. It was made perfectly clear in the 1957 White Paper that that was something which was not possible. Every Government have to make provision for the most likely contingencies they can guard against, because they cannot guard against every contingency right across the board.

I am grateful for the assistance given in the House and in Committee and for the expressions which have been made I know that the Territorial Army will welcome the expressions of good will which will help units to meet the major changes which are now put upon them. I am convinced that the units and individuals in the Territorial Army will respond to this reorganisation in the way in which they have responded to many reorganisations which they have had to endure in the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.