HC Deb 28 November 1968 vol 774 cc739-48
Mr. Speaker

Statement. Mr. Reynolds.

Sir T. Beamish

On a point of order. The statement which is about to be made is, as everyone knows, very important and significant. I feel that the House is entitled to know why the Secretary of State for Defence is not making it, instead of a junior Minister.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)

Trivial and offensive.

Mr. C. Pannell

Further to that point of order. Are not the words "junior Minister" being used as a derogatory term and in the wrong context here? In the present set-up in the Ministry of Defence, surely this is a senior Minister?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I never thought that the word "junior" was derogatory or unparliamentary.

The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)

With permission, as the Minister responsible for personnel matters under the Secretary of State for Defence, I would like to make a statement on the personnel of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve.

The Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy of last July explained that we were reviewing the Army reserves. The review has been virtually completed, and I can now inform the House of our main conclusion.

There will be a relatively small increase of some 2,000 in the establishment of TAVR II, mainly for logistic support in our increased N.A.T.O. contribution.

We have decided to cease recruiting "Ever-readies"—the Special Army Volunteer Reserve. The "Ever-readies" were not well recruited and, in any case, we consider that the tasks for which they were designed can now be better carred out by Regulars.

I shall at a later date be making a statement about the future of the Army General Reserve. This is a pool of about 170,000 national Service men, of whom about 15,000 are currently required on mobilisation. We plan to meet this requirement from other sources as soon as we possibly can.

The Regular Reserve will be growing in size over the next few years and this will help, but we shall also have to place greater reliance on the volunteer reserve. To this end we are increasing the establishment of individual volunteers in TAVR II by a further 3,000.

The disbandment of TAVR III—the Territorials—was announced on 16th January this year as part of the process of putting Civil Defence on to a care and maintenance basis. One of the objects of our review was to employ the assets of TAVR III to make good the manning shortfall in TAVR II. We intend to give every encouragement to Territorials to join the TAVR II, and we hope that many of them will do so.

But the influx of Territorials we hope for will be a one-time bonus. We have decided that two permanent changes are necessary.

First, we intend to draw on the recruiting potential of a much wider area by transferring about 100 of the training centres of the Territorials to TAVR II.

Secondly, experience has shown that the amount of full-time training currently required of members of TAVR II with its extensive demands on the spare time of the volunteer has a discouraging effect on the retention of trained men. We have decided to allow a limited number of trained men to undertake, with the agreement of their commanding officers, a rather less onerous training obligation. By thus improving the state of manning, we aim to improve the overall efficiency of volunteer units.

Finally, we intend to establish up to 100 cadres, each of about eight officers, N.C.O.s and men, and each attached to a unit of TAVR II.

These cadres will take some of the peace-time administrative work off the shoulders of the officers and N.C.O.s of the TAVR II units, who will thereby be enabled to concentrate more on their military training.

Mr. Webster

On a point of order. I am trying to keep up with the speed at which the Territorial Army is being reduced. Can the Minister do it more slowly?

Mr. Reynolds

The complaint in the House over the last 10 months is that I have been taking too long. I will, however, proceed a little more slowly for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman who, apparently, cannot keep up with me.

The cadres to which I have referred will take some of the peace-time administrative work off the shoulders of the officers and N.C.O.s of the TAVR II units, who will thereby be enabled to concentrate more on their military training.

They will act as rear parties for those units on mobilisation. In addition, they will provide nuclei around which units could be formed when minor changes are made in the TAVR II order of battle; or, if circumstances were to necessitate, a sudden expansion of reserves; or, if circumstances after mobilisation were to necessitate the formation into units, to tweet a military requirement, of Regular reservists not needed for the Regular Army.

We expect that most if not all of the gintental titles of the former TAVR III units will be preserved by conferring these on the cadres.

We are thus bringing the order of battle of the volunteer reserves up to date on a simplified organisational structure; we are taking steps to make the best use of the assets of TAVR III, and to bring about improvement in the recruiting of TAVR II.

My last word is to the Territorials. I would like to thank them for the service they have given in TAVR III. I would like to express our appreciation of their patience during the past year of uncertainty and to say how much we hope that they will seek to transfer to the volunteers.

Mr. Rippon

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House deplore his statement, and that we will take an early opportunity to debate it?

In the light of the belated acceptance in the statement, that there may be a need for a sudden expansion of reserves, how can the Government justify persisting in action which is bound to weaken the whole structure of our reserves and the Territorial Army? Do not the Government yet understand the grave anxiety there is throughout the country about the state of our reserves and this dismemberment of the Territorial Army?

May I put some questions. First, will he explain why we alone of all the N.A.T.O. countries have made the assumption that we need no home defence, and is that still the basis of the Government's policy? Secondly, will he say how far the recent N.A.T.O. discussions and the communique issued in Brussels have changed the Government's plans for the run-down of the forces, particularly in relation to the reserves?

Finally, will he and his colleagues take note that we on this side of the House are firmly pledged to restore the importance of the Territorial Army and of a genuine citizens' volunteer service, for both military and civil purposes?

Mr. Reynolds

As I tried to explain, this reorganisation has been primarily directed to provide for the assets of TAVR III which is being disbanded to be added to the strength of our forces concerned with reinforcing our N.A.T.O. role in Europe. I believe that we shall achieve this. I am not particularly worried—as some are shouting—by suggestions of the destruction of the T.A. or anything else, because I believe that what we are doing really matters and that in the drill halls of the country my statement will be welcomed.

As regards the N.A.T.O. communiqué, there is not a direct connection with my statement, although in the N.A.T.O. Committee we are all concerned with all aspects of defence policy. But we are taking action, and have taken action during the past six months, to anounce the assignment of the Third Division of Parachutists and other military units to SACEUR. What we are now trying to do is to ensure that our reserve forces are built up by the extra numbers required to back the extra number of Regulars we have now committed to SACEUR.

Mr. Shinwell

Was it necessary to bring this action forward at this time? We are expecting a debate on defence probably in February next year. Could we not have waited before any actual decision was taken, even if the House had just been informed of these matters but no decision taken until the House debated what kind of reserves are necessary?

If we are to have land forces at all—there are some of my hon. Friends who think that land forces are unnecessary, but that is not my view—those forces must be ample and capable of adopting a role associated with land forces in the international situation. In the circumstances, does not my right hon. Friend think it undesirable to proceed with this action until we have a full debate?

Mr. Reynolds

I agree with my right hon. Friend on the necessity for land forces. The reason for making this statement now is that it arises from the statement on 16th January this year by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about putting civil defence and home defence on a care and maintenance basis. It took us quite a time—some hon. Members say that it has taken too long—to work out the exact implications of how we were to make sure we had an improvement in respect of our reserve forces actually committed to SACEUR. In fact, we reached these decisions only a day or two ago. and, as we have 10,000 men in drill halls throughout the country at present in units to be disbanded in the near future who were waiting to know what their future is to be, it was only right to give an answer as soon as possible.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, far from local drill halls welcoming his statement, they will greet it with alarm and great disappointment? That will certainly be so in Northampton and in many other counties as well. Surely, if his present statement is based also on his right hon. Friend's statement of 25th July, when he said: We can comfort ourselves that the situation between East and West"——

Mr. Speaker

Order. There must be no quotations in supplementary questions.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account that this statement appears to be based upon the thinking of the Department when it said that the situation was stable? Since then we have had the events in Czechoslovakia. In the circumstances, ought he not to withdraw the statement that he has made today?

Mr. Reynolds

I have tried to explain, but apparently I must do so again, that a considerable part of the reorganisation of our reserves is directly connected with increased contributions of Regular forces which we have made to N.A.T.O. over the past few months. We are trying to make sure that the TAVR II, the volunteers, are brought up to the necessary strength to be able fully to back B.A.O.R. in any situation which arises in Europe. It is not affected particularly by the events of the past few weeks within N.A.T.O.

Mr. James Davidson

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, although his statement gives welcome evidence that the TAVR II is to be increased by 3,000 —or is it 2,000?; I am not quite sure from the statement, and I should like it to be clarified—it is poor consolation none the less that the Government intend Ito continue the general run-down of reserves?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us a little more about the intended composition of the cadres? Also, will he say whether the whole idea of the emergency force was considered during the course of the review, in the light of the views expressed by many hon. Members on the need for a force to fulfil ancillary functions and to apply themselves in cases of national, regional and local disaster?

Mr. Reynolds

On the question of numbers, I thought that the statement was clear. If it is not, I apologise. I referred, first, to establishments being increased by 2,000. That is in formed units. I referred later to 3,000 individuals. They are two separate figures. The first is individuals in units, and the second is individuals recruited as individuals for particular jobs.

At this stage, I cannot add to what I said about the cadres, but they are for military purposes connected with our TAVR II units who are, in the main, available for support to our Regular forces in Germany. Their purpose is not connected with the matter of various emergencies raised in the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. Those are matters for others of my right hon. Friends.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that there is an important debate ahead.

Mr. Newens

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, whatever is said by hon. Members opposite about alarm in the drill halls, the vast majority of people will welcome any attempt made by the Government to cut down on expenditure on the Territorial Army or on military matters in general?

Mr. Reynolds

I should not wish to agree or disagree with may hon. Friend on the views of people in the country over this particular matter.

What I must point out, however, is that there is a place in the TAVR II, in the volunteers, for every member of the Territorials, so-called, who is within the appropriate age limit and can pass the necessary medical examinations, and there is a place for several thousand more in order to bring those volunteers up to the strength at which we should like to see them.

Sir Richard Glyn

Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that the precise reason why the members of TAVR III are not in TAVR II is that they do not like the way in which TAVR II is administered and they wish to fight, if they are allowed to fight, in the units to which they feel they belong? Further, is he aware that he is utterly destroying the volunteer spirit which has helped Britain to win two world wars?

Mr. Reynolds

By coincidence, I have today seen a letter from the Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe congratulating a number of volunteer units which took part in recent N.A.T.O. exercises. I cannot, therefore, accept that the spirit of our volunteer military forces has been destroyed. I realise that a lot of men like to serve in their local drill hall, preferably with the local unit which has been there some time, but we have to make sure that we have men in the right type of jobs. It is no use recruiting Yeomanry if we want Ordnance Corps personnel.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there will be a saving and, if there is to be a saving, is not this something which the Opposition have been clamouring for over months past, calling upon the Government to cut their expenditure? Is not that what my right hon. Friend is doing?

Mr. Reynolds

This has really been done in several stages. Originally, there was a saving of nearly £18 million a year; that was from 1st April, 1967. In respect of these particular proposals, there is a saving of about £3 million caused by the disbandment of TAVR III, and there will be an extra expenditure in a full years, if all these proposals are successful, of about 10 million on the TAVR II.

Mr. Ramsden

Now that the Government have belatedly admitted the need for a reserve for expansion, is it not clear that the role for the volunteer forces has now come right back, with the minor exception of the civil defence role, to the original role of the Territorial Army and AVR? Would it not have been much better not to have destroyed those two forces in the first place?

Mr. Reynolds

I must make clear that the original Territorial Army was an army in its own right. What we require today is certain types of units composed of volunteers to fill holes in the order of battle in B.A.O.R. These holes were there when the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for filling them, and the reserves he had were incapable of filling them. We are now reaching a much better position in this respect.

Sir T. Beamish

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that when he says that the disbandment of the Territorial Army will be warmly welcomed in drill halls throughout the country—that was the effect of it—he demonstrates how pathetically out of touch he is with public opinion? Further, is he aware that the only people who will warmly welcome his statement are the Left wing of his own party and the men in the Kremlin?

Mr. Reynolds

I think that it will be warmly welcomed in the vast majority of drill halls because, for the past 10 months, home defence units in 150 drill halls have not known whether their particular drill hall would be closed or whether it would be possible for them to continue serving in a formed military unit in that drill hall. The proposals I have announced will mean the spreading of existing TAVR II units to a larger number of drill halls. There will be TAVR II units of some sort in 120 of those 150 drill halls, and I think that they will all be quite happy.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

In view of the paucity of our reserves, the age of our reserves, their poor recruiting and the need for quick and mobile reserves, will the right hon. Gentleman now stop selling any more drill halls anywhere in the country, as these may be needed to expand the reserves for which he now acknowledges the need?

Mr. Reynolds

Since 1st April, 1967 I have been in process of disposing of about 850 drill halls in various parts of the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] The disposal of those drill halls will continue. Of the 150 I referred to, about 120 will be used, and I am making arrangements to hold about 30 of them in reserve.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the undermining of the nation's voluntary defence reserves which will flow from the Minister's announcement.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the undermining of the nation's voluntary defence reserves which will flow from the Minister's announcement. The House will remember that under the revised Standing Order No. 9, agreed to on 14th November, 1967, Mr. Speaker is directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reasons for his decision.

In the light of the new conditions, I have to rule that the hon. Member's submission does not fall within the provisions of the revised Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.