HL Deb 14 April 1965 vol 265 cc420-4

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to intervene to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Deputy Secretary of State for Defence in another place on the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve, and which, for the benefit of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, I may say has not appeared in the newspapers. The Statement is as follows:

"The House will recall that this Reserve—the Ever-Readies—was set up in 1962 to provide a source of individual reinforcement for units under strength in areas of tension. Its members are all volunteers who receive a special bounty of £150 a year in return for an obligation to serve for up to six months. The Ever-Readies have done very well during training in overseas theatres with Regular Army units. So far none of them has been called out for service under their liability.

"My right honourable friend has now decided to exercise his powers under Section 3 of the Army Reserve Act, 1962, to call up about 175 members of the Ever-Readies for Service with the Regular Army in the Middle East, in the Far East, and with the United Nations force in Cyprus.

"The necessity for this step springs from the fact that the Army has been engaged continuously in emergency operations overseas for over two years. This has had a cumulative effect and creates difficulties which are serious though, I hope, temporary. We now have on emergency tours overseas without their families a brigade headquarters, nine infantry battalions, two armoured car squadrons, one artillery regiment, two engineer squadrons and about 600 individual soldiers. The result is that many men in the Army have not had much opportunity of home service and of being united with their families. The long-term effect of this on recruitment and re-engagement in the Regular Army cannot be disregarded.

"The officers and men to be called out are mainly infantry together with small numbers of officers and men of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Intelligence Corps and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

"The men selected for call-out will receive their orders within a few days. All of them will get at least a month's notice of call-out. This is the first occasion on which members of the T.A.E.R. have been called out for normal service with the Regular Army, with whom they have been undergoing periods of training. I am sure they will discharge their obligations with credit."


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for having repeated that Statement. I am glad to think that the "Ever-Readies"—the idea of the late Government some three years ago—are proving useful; but, of course, it shows not only that the Army has emergency commitments, both in the Middle East and in the Far East, but also that, even though recruiting has been not too bad just recently, there is still a shortage of manpower in the Army. But that we can debate later on this Session, on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Thurlow.

I would ask just two very short questions. First, am I right in thinking that all these men are going to be called up for the full six months of their obligation? Secondly, although I do not exactly remember (perhaps I should, but I do not) the conditions on which these men signed their obligations in the Ever-Ready "Service, I hope the Government will watch very carefully to see that they are not put at a disadvantage in their normal occupations when they return from this overseas service.


My Lords, I should like to acknowledge that this is a useful piece of legislation that the previous Government introduced and on which we twitted the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, at various stages; and clearly these men, who have not hitherto been called out although they have freely undertaken the liability, for which they have received a generous bonus, will be able to fulfil a very useful rôle. As I think the Statement made clear—indeed, it was in the White Paper—the Army is overstretched, and the effect on the lives of the men in the Army, with this worsening home/overseas ratio and the increasing amount of unaccompanied service overseas, is a serious one. To that extent there is a shortage, as we know; but I should prefer, as the noble Lord suggests, not to go into that, because it needs very careful examination.

It is proposed that the "Ever-Readies" will be called up for six months. If in fact they are not needed, then obviously they will be returned; but I think there is every likelihood that they will be needed, and the intention is that they should carry out their six months' service. Their position under the legislation introduced in this House by the noble Lord is fully protected. They are protected, as under the National Service Acts. They have taken on this liability, and it is right that some of them should, when the need arises, be called on to meet an obligation which they have freely, honourably and patriotically undertaken.


My Lords, may I express the hope that when this matter comes to be more fully debated on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Thurlow, the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, will be able to give us more precise reasons as to exactly why his right honourable friend hopes that this manpower situation is no more than temporary?


My Lords, might I ask the Minister if he could say whether his right honourable friend envisages this as a onetime operation, or is it the first of a series, possibly over a number of years?


My Lords, may I deal, first, with the point of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman? We have all known for years that there has been a manpower shortage. I hesitate to use the word "temporary" on any subject connected with Army recruiting. On the point made by the noble Lord, LORD Rea, I am afraid I cannot forecast what is likely to happen militarily in the world over the next year or two. After all, we have had a series of difficult situations; and I must stress that at the moment the Army is meeting very severe obligations under operational conditions. The purpose of calling these men up is because it is necessary. I would stress that this is not merely an exercise. These men arc needed. I hope more will not be needed, but I certainly could not give any undertaking on that.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether any consideration has been given to the position of young men who are at university now? Would it be possible to give some consideration which would enable them either to finish their course, when that is necessary, or at least to have their call-up postponed until such time as they have completed the more important part of their university training?


I should not like to be too specific about compassionate factors. After all, these men, in return for a sum of £150 a year, have voluntarily—and I stress "voluntarily" —undertaken an obligation. They are not in the position of a man who is called up willy-nilly and who has not voluntarily undertaken a particular obligation. It is possible that special circumstances of a compassionate nature may arise in particular cases, but I would remind the noble Earl that this is an annual contract. There has been no obligation on anyone to repeat this contract. I think that if anyone undertook studies and drew £150 a year in the comfortable expectation that he might not be called on to honour his commitment, he would be taking undue advantage, or at any rate would have made a bad judgment.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell us how many "Ever-Readies" there are and is he perfectly satisfied that the call-up of only 150 will really satisfy the need in the sense that that number will be enough to alter the situation as it stands to-day?


The number is somewhere round 6,000 to 7,000. The original target figure, I remember, was about 15,000, but, in the way of such targets, it has tended to be altered to meet the reality. The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, questions whether this call-up will represent a useful contribution towards solving the problem. My Lords, this does not represent an attempt to solve the general problems of the Army, but to meet specific operational needs in the Middle East and the Far East. The House will not want me to go into details, but I would say that this small call-up will strengthen those units where the need is particularly essential—and the noble Lord must realise that the position of a unit which is below strength under operational conditions is particularly unsatisfactory. This is precisely the need that the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve was intended to meet, and this is what this comparatively small call-out will achieve. So I assure the noble Lord that this is a very useful and effective measure.


My Lords, can the noble Lord assure us that these "Ever-Readies" are protected under the National Service Acts? Because I remember one case at the beginning of the war of a young apprentice who, about halfway through his apprenticeship, joined the Territorials. He was embodied at the beginning of the war. When the time came for him to return to civil life, he applied to be allowed to continue his apprenticeship, but he was told that he had not been called up; he had volunteered. Therefore he was not entitled, under the Act, to demand to continue his apprenticeship. That young fellow had to go through life without having his apprenticeship completed, and it was a very grave disadvantage to him, of course, in his career.


My Lords, I will not go back into past history and to the position of volunteers, but I can assure the noble Lord, quite specifically, that these men will be protected in the same way as were National Servicemen.


I thank the noble Lord.