HL Deb 29 July 1965 vol 268 cc1447-58

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to intervene to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in another place, about the Government's plans to reorganise the Reserve Army. It is as follows:

"It has become clear that the tasks of the Reserve Army have changed so radically as to require a reorganisation no less comprehensive than that introduced by Lord Haldane nearly 60 years ago. It is no longer realistic to think in terms of the Territorial Army for the defence of the United Kingdom itself or as providing a framework on which general preparations can be made for a major conventional war aboard. This leaves the role of aid to the civil power after a nuclear attack as the sole remaining commitment for some sixty per cent. of Reserve Army manpower. The Government have decided, in the course of the current review of home defence, that this cannot of itself justify the retention of the Territorial Army in its present form.

"The future rôle of the Reserves will be to provide, first, some individuals and a few units to be called out at any time to reinforce the Regular Army; secondly, the reinforcements needed to support the Regular Army in limited war; and, thirdly, such reinforcements for NATO as our commitments require.

"To meet these requirements, the Government propose a force of about 50,000 volunteer reservists. It will incorporate both the Territorial Army and the Army Emergency Reserve: and it might be called the Territorial Reserve. Volunteers of the Territorial Army have served this country well in two world wars. I pay tribute to what they and members of the Army Emergency Reserve have done in the past and hope that the same spirit of service can be maintained in the future.

"Most of the units of the new Territorial Reserve will be based on areas of the country like the present Territorial Army units; and some, like the present Army Emergency Reserve, will be recruited, trained and administered by central headquarters. A substantial proportion of the force will consist of logistic units, as the Regular Army has the greatest need for reserves of this kind.

"In order that the liability of the reorganised Reserve may be more closely related to the tasks to be performed, it must be similar to that of the present Army Emergency Reserve (Category I). This liability for service will be recognised by a bounty of £60 a year. Those volunteers who accept a Territorial Army Emergency Reserve, 'Every-Ready', type liability will receive a bounty of £150 a year. We foresee a need for about 8,500 of these volunteers, and we intend to give ex-Regular soldiers on the Reserve the opportunity of volunteering for the 'Ever-Ready' liability on the same terms as Territorial reservists. We also propose that Regulars enlisting in future should, when serving in the Regular Reserve, have call-out liabilities similar to those of the Territorial reservists. The higher state of readiness which we shall expect will be reflected in training and equipment.

"It is estimated that this reorganisation will ultimately produce a saving of the order of £20 million a year.

"Legislation will be needed to give effect to the changes we propose. Meanwhile, the Government hope that all existing Reserve Army units will continue to function. Training will continue in 1966–67 as planned and we have under consideration some interim increase in the rates of training bounty for next year. We shall now consult with representatives of the Council of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations about the means by which our proposals should be given effect.

"The reduction we shall be making in the size of the Reserve Army will mean that a much smaller number of Regular Army officers and men will be needed to help in its training and administration. Officers and soldiers who are required to retire prematurely will be given fair compensation.

"The majority of the civilians employed by the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations and some Army Department employees will become redundant. So far as we can, we shall offer them alternative employment; but, failing this, the normal superannuation arrangements will apply to Ministry of Defence (Army Department) employees and compensation will be provided for Territorial Army Association employees.

"It is the intention to publish details of our proposals in a White Paper in the late Autumn, but I thought it important the House should be told their main outline now."


My Lords, in view of the prudent and anodyne references made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to this subject under previous pressure, this is to us a rather startling Statement; and the impression we have is that its content is more the result of a lack of money following a mismanagement of our economy by the present Government than a planned streamlining of a well-disciplined and valuable force. This is not simply a reorganisation, in the anodyne phrase of the noble Lord; it is, it seems to us, an emasculation. There are one or two questions which spring immediately to my mind. The noble Lord spoke in his Statement of a "substantial proportion" of the new force being in the logistic units; and we should like to know how many of the 50,000 will, in fact, be in the fighting arms; that is to say, the infantry, the armoured and artillery corps.

We should like also to know what the noble Lord and the Government suppose may be the effect of these decisions on the Regular Army career structure, taking into account the fact that, as I understand it, 50 per cent. of the regimental sergeant-majors of the Regular Army are at present employed with Territorial units. I should like also to know what the noble Lord sees as being from now on the rôle or purpose of the Territorial Associations. Will they have any administrative rôle to play? I should also like to know what is to happen to the Territorial Army parachute units. Will they continue to exist?—because, as the noble Lord has said on a number of occasions, these are a very useful means of recruiting. A fact from which he and I have taken considerable satisfaction in the past is that these units should be a lode-star for recruitment.

I should also like to know what would be the possibilities of training in the force now visualised and, in particular, the training of those belonging to or enlisting in units in country districts; and also what, in view of one part of the noble Lord's Statement, will be the Civilian Defence component of the Territorial Army. Will, in fact, this present rôle of the Territorial Army cease to exist, or will it continue in some form?


My Lords, would the noble Lord care to answer those questions and let me make my observations later? Or shall I give him a whole "dishful"?


My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, had carefully prepared his questions on the Statement, I think perhaps I should give him a chance to have answers. I think we must ignore his rather polemical opening statements. I hope the House will regard this as a serious attempt to deal with a problem which I think the House in a recent debate surely acknowledged: that the present Territorial Army does, in fact, in its present form waste men and money on forces that we do not need while it fails to provide the forces we do need. Two-thirds of its members are committed to a home defence rôle which, in our view and according to the best advice, is not justified and has little to do with what most of them volunteered for. The other third cannot easily be used for the purposes for which they are really needed and for which they joined, because they have the wrong sort of liabilities and inadequate training and equipment. We are proposing instead a streamlined force, specially-tailored to meet the real military needs—and we shall save the nation £20 million on the way.

I may not be able to answer all the particular points that the noble Lord raised without notice, but I would stress that this is not a Reserve Army but a Reserve for the Regular Army and therefore there will be about half in the "teeth" arms including Signals and Sappers, and a half logistics. I do not think I can answer the detailed questions on particular units because this is a matter on which consultation must very properly take place with the Territorial Army Council; but there will be a number—probably a great majority—of independent Territorial units. The future of the Territorial Army Associations is, again, a matter for consultation. Our present thinking—and this is a matter on which I would not wish to prejudge the discussions with the Council—is that we expect they may be able to continue some rôle; but I think I should not be drawn further on this.

Equally, I do not want to go deeply into the Civil Defence side. I think perhaps I might say this about it. The Territorial Army in its home defence rôle is there to fight an invading army and help the civil authorities after a nuclear attack. We cannot prepare for every conceivable contingency. The first we think is too unlikely to be worth spending £20 million a year on; and the relevance of the Territorial Army in conditions of the catastrophe of a nuclear attack is very speculative. We are 'anxious to get reserve forces which will be relevant and of help to the Regular Army in fulfilling its rôle. There may be other points which I fear I have not answered, but I think that I have covered most of the points raised by the noble Lord.

4.1 p.m.

Lord REA

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for giving us this Statement, which we certainly accept as a serious attempt to improve matters. But I must say that it is a very long Statement and we cannot possibly analyse it this afternon. Many of us have received it with some misgivings. We are not sure of the implications. It seems like the end of the Territorial Army, and that is a thing which cannot lightly be undertaken. I was a little surprised when the noble Lord said—I may not have quite understood him—but I think he said—they would now consult representatives of the Council of the Territorial Army and Auxiliary Forces. With respect, I should have thought it would have been better to consult before coming to such a sweeping conclusion.

I think the noble Lord said that they were not pre-judging the matter. But this very Statement seems to indicate a certain amount of pre-judging. I see that towards the end of the Statement the noble Lord promises a White Paper in the late autumn. I ask him most seriously to give the House an opportunity to discuss the matter in full—the demise of the Territorial Army and all the implications—before such a step is taken. It might be possible to have a discussion in late October on what is called the spillover of this Session, or at least very early in the new Session, before the White Paper is proceeded with.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to be allowed to make a very few remarks in my capacity as Chairman of the Territorial Council. In my humble opinion we have listened to probably the gravest Statement that has been made in this House for many years. It is one of national importance. As I see it, it will be the end of the Territorial Army as we know it to-day, and therefore there will not, in this country, be a reserve, a volunteer reserve force. From what the noble Lord said, one gathers that it may also be that there will be no bridge left between the military authorities and the civilian population.

On hearing of this review, we formed a working party within the Council and during the last week of May we handed a paper to the Ministry of Defence. I feel somewhat hurt that we were never invited to consult with anybody on the terms of that paper which we believe even now would give a better answer and provide a better plan, and possibly a greater saving, if its contents were implemented. We are now told that there will be consultations. I shall immediately call a meeting of my Council and we shall have our own discussions pending the discussions which are to take place. In my on view, this plan will not work. After the sixty years of glory of the Territorial Army and the associations within the counties, I hope that, during the months of discussion, some sense will come back and something may be saved from the wreck.


My Lords, as a former Director-General of the Territorial Army and as a member of the Council of the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces' Association, may I endorse every word which has been said by the noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk? I could not have said more; I will certainly not say less. The Statement has been made considerably in advance of the White Paper and, in turn, the White Paper will be considerably in advance of legislation. It seems to me, therefore, that, despite what I would call a thoroughly bad start to which these negotiations have got off, there is still time for common sense to prevail and for the views of the Territorial Council delegates (that is to say, those who have spent their lives in the Territorial Army and not a short time) to be listened to before the White Paper is published. So, my Lords, may I say that I have not given up hope.

I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, one other question. The reorganisation of the Territorial Army which has just been announced will have very considerable impacts on the pre-Service organisations. Can I have an assurance (I am not going to ask for consultations; that has become a thoroughly dirty word) that those responsible for the pre-Service organisations, the Army Cadet Force Association and the Combined Cadet Forces Association, will have opportunities to express their views on the impact of these proposals on the pre-Service organisations before decisions are firmly taken in the Defence Departments?


My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is in a position to give information concerning the Officers' Training Corps in the universities? They have been part of the Territorial Army for the past fifteen years, but when Lord Haldane set up the Territorial Army in 1906 they were a different part of his reforms and not then attached to the Territorial Army. There is, of course, great interest in the universities about the future of the Officers' Training Corps, and I think their fears and alarms should be cleared up or quietened.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he has had any consultations with Lord Lieutenants and Deputy Lieutenants of counties regarding this matter? I should like to draw attention to the words used by one who was in at the founding of the Force: The Territorial Force was founded first, last and all the time on a county basis. County patriotism is a real and abiding thing, far more so, I believe, in England than in any country in the world.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I fully appreciate the concern and, indeed, the sorrow in the remarks of noble Lords. I hope the House will accept that the decision which has been taken to reorganise the Territorial Army into the Territorial Reserve was one which was not taken lightly. I hope that noble Lords will accept that everybody, and certainly my right honourable friend, who has been concerned with this, as well as all those in the Ministry of Defence, are deeply aware of the significance of the Territorial Army, its part in history, the contributions it has made in wars, and, indeed, the very real contribution it makes in social terms to our way of life and to our society. Therefore, this is not a decision which has been taken lightly.

I should like, very briefly, to deal with some of the points which have been made, including the question of consultation. I think it has been made clear (I certainly made it clear in this House when the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, pressed me on it) that it must be for the Government to take responsibility for its own decisions in matters of national defence and national strategy. The shape of our forces is clearly not something which can be settled by any one section of the community. Only the Government and their advisers can look at the strategic position as a whole. It is against that background that the Government made this Statement and, in due course, will publish a White Paper.

The assessment of the operational requirements for the Reserve Force must be one that is outside the competence, with the greatest respect, of the Territorial Army Council, admirable though it is and gratefully as we acknowledge its services. I would not go so far as to say that it would not be right to bring it into any type of consultation. Once decisions on operational needs are taken, then it is right to bring it in. I very much welcome the statement of the noble Duke which, if I may say so, is what we all would have expected from him, that he will immediately consult his associates in this matter, and I am sure will give the benefit of their advice to the Government.

Obviously we have a real problem in reorganisation and it is in the details of the organisation that we shall particularly need this help. I should not like the noble Duke to think that the plans put forward by the Territorial Army Council were not considered. They were received two months ago and were very carefully considered. But the Government were unable to accept them, because there was very little financial saving. I am not blaming them, because they did not know the operational requirement that the Government had accepted and thought necessary. But only one-third was useful and that had a pattern of units unsuitable for military needs, and therefore, although it was considered, we were not able to accept that particular plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, who is so well informed on these matters, rightly pointed out that O.T.C. and similar bodies are not affected by this reorganisation, although administered by the Territorial Army Associations and run as part of the Territorial Army system, except in so far as other administrator arrangements or adjustments may be necessary. The future of university O.T.C.'s and Air Squadrons does not arise out of this particular reorganisation.

Deeply as this House feels in a matter of this kind, much as we acknowledge the glory of the Territorial Army in this world, as I am sure all noble Lords will agree, we cannot live on glory alone, and the Government have put forward these proposals because we believe them to be relevant to the present defence needs of this country. We shall need all the help we can get in carrying them out. It may be that noble Lords, with the great width and depth of their experience, may like to go into this matter in more detail, and although it is unlikely that there will be an opportunity to do so before the House rises for the Summer Recess, and the implications will need careful consideration by those who have only just heard the proposals for the first time, there are opportunities always open to noble Lords to make it possible to have a debate when we come back in the autumn.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this question? As he has said, it must be for the Government to decide these things. There can be no dispute about that. But I understood the noble Lord to say that he did not think it proper or right that the Council of the Territorial Army Associations should be consulted about this. Then he went on to say that the Council had put in a memorandum which the Government had considered. Is it not rather discourteous, to say the least of it, not to have had any contact with this body after having considered the memorandum, and to let them hear this now? Is that not rather a sharp way of treating an organisation which has served the Government and country faithfully and well?


My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely wrong. They have not heard about it for the first time to-day. This set of proposals came in at the end of May, rather less than two months ago, and had to be considered carefully. The Territorial Army Council—certainly the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk—was told about a week ago what the attitude of the Government was. This seems to me a good acknowledgment. I do not know whether an actual letter was sent, saying that we had received their proposals and would give them consideration. I really think that the noble Lord is making heavy weather of this. I can only say that there has been no intention at any time to treat the Territorial Army Council other than with the utmost seriousness and respect which they merit. If the Government are to make their own decisions, as the noble Lord accepts, it is right that they should do so and it is right that this House, like another place, should be the first to be publicly told of the matter.


My Lords, in the sphere of Government generally, it has become an established principle for the Government, before reaching a conclusion, to consult the various bodies which, by tradition or by association, can help to a conclusion. I, for one, am as much disturbed as many noble Lords opposite by what appears to be an absence of that consultation. Consultation is not so effective after a decision has been come to as before it is come to. The question I want to ask is this. Would anything be lost by the consultation which is so greatly the desire of this House, taking place before the publication of the White Paper? Would it not rather tend to allay the feelings which must have been somewhat embittered by the Statement made here? I do not personally accept the principles of authoritarian government which to-day are being more and more obtruded on the community, and I think it is a reasonable thing to consult interested parties before decisions are made rather than after.


My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene for one second on consultation? I have tried hard to play extremely fair over this and I should not like anyone to think that I have not been received at the Ministry of Defence and by the Deputy Minister of Defence very courteously. The only point I want to make is that we were not consulted about this plan. We were told last week of the details which were coming out to-day. The paper which we put in was not discussed by myself or, so far as I know, any of my colleagues with anybody else. Had it been, that is what I should have called consultation. in other words, it is a question of the interpretation of the words "consultation". Personally, I would put it that you discuss a thing before and not after a decision has been taken. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, does not think that I am trying to make out that I have not received every courtesy from the Minister. But, on my interpretation of the word "consultation", it has not yet taken place.


My Lords, I think that we ought not to continue to debate this. We could go on doing so for hours. It is open to noble Lords to use their influence through the usual channels. There are plenty of opportunities for debate. But it is unusual for a Statement to lead to a general debate, and I think that my noble friends on the Front Bench and other noble Lords who are responsible for maintaining the order of this House would greatly regret it if we turned this into a debate.


My Lords, I do not wish to continue the debate, but may I remind the noble Lord that I asked a specific question on the effect of the Statement on pre-Service organisations. Does he intend to answer it or did he intend his answer to my noble friend Lord Balerno to cover my point?


My Lords, I thought I had answered the noble Viscount by saying that this particular reorganisation did not affect the A.T.C. or the O.T.C. There will be certain adjustments in the administration of the Cadet Corps, but they are not part of the Territorial Army as such, and are not part of the reorganisation. I said this in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, who I am sure will be pleased to explain to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, its significance.

May I say to the noble Duke and my noble friend Lord Citrine that I have made clear—and I think this was accepted by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—that there are certain decisions in the defence field, particularly in establishing the operational need and the shape of the forces, that are not suitable for consultation. I have made clear in debates before now that the actual decision, from the defence needs point of view, must be the responsibility of the Government, but the method of implementation is a matter on which we wish to consult with those most concerned. I will repeat, in case my noble friend, Lord Citrine, did not hear me, that there will be consultations before the White Paper is published in the autumn. I very much hope your Lordships will leave the matter there. I should be quite happy to continue discussing this matter, but I do not think it would be appropriate now.


My Lords, whether or not my noble friend would be happy to continue to discuss this now, I cannot think that we should. There will be a day on Wednesday after the House resumes when, through arrangements that have been made, it will be possible to discuss this matter. We have immediately on hand a Committee stage of the Rent Bill that might take us until 11 o'clock, and I think the House should move on to that.