HL Deb 02 February 1966 vol 272 cc401-8

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to intervene to repeat a statement which is being made by my honourable friend, the Minister of Defence for the Army, in another place on the Reorganisation of the Army Reserves. The Statement is as follows:

"In accordance with paragraph 4 of the White Paper on the Reorganisation of the Army Reserves the Government have now completed their examination of the contribution that military units might best make to Home Defence in the event of actual or apprehended nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.

"To supplement the substantial numbers of Regulars and Reserve Forces likely to be in the United Kingdom at the time, we have decided"—

as my noble friend Lord Stonham has told the House—

"to establish a Home Defence Force. This will be a military force, based on existing Territorial Army units and forming a self-contained part of the Army Volunteer Reserve, organised separately from the independent and sponsored units described in the White Paper. It will be under military command, but its primary rôle will be to assist the police in the maintenance of law and order and to act generally in support of the civil authorities in the event of a general war. It will therefore be closely linked with Civil Defence and will be widely spread throughout the United Kingdom.

"The force will have an establishment of about 28,000 men with a peace-time recruiting ceiling of 22,500, representing 80 per cent. of the establishment. It will consist of lightly armed infantry type units with training and limited scales of equipment appropriate to their primary role. The annual cost of the Force should not exceed £3 million.

"Subject to the necessary legislative authority, members of the Force will have the same liability for call-out as the Territorial Army have now, except that they will be liable for home service only and that call-out by Queen's Order will be substituted for the existing Proclamation procedure.

"Discussions are now taking place between the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the Council of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations on the implementation of this decision. The title of the new Force will be one of the subjects to be covered by these discussions."

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord in his turn for repeating this Statement. I would say straightaway that I am glad the Government have seer, the light on this matter, at least partially and albeit at a very late hour, but I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I add that all the credit for this complete somersault on the Government's part is not entirely due to the Government. I think that those who have raised this matter in another place and, indeed, in your Lordships' House, from all Benches, not least my noble friend Lord Thurlow and the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, have also earned a good deal of gratitude for ventilating this matter so thoroughly.

May I ask the noble Lord two questions? I noted what he said about the rôle of this Force, the primary rôle being in the event of a general war. I hope he will agree with me that there may well be many eventualities short of general or nuclear war in which a Home Defence Force of this sort will be useful, and can assure us that the tasks of this force will not be too narrowly drawn. I hope that at all events members of it will be soldiers in every sense of the word. Secondly, I noted what he said about this force being a self-contained part of the A.V.R. Am I right in assuming that it will be an organic part of the A.V.R. and that, at least for the purposes of administration and recruitment, there will be a very close link between the A.V.R., as announced in the recent White Paper, and the Home Defence Force?


My Lords, the noble Earl prefaced his earlier remarks to my noble friend, Lord Stonham, by saying that he hoped he would not be thought to be ungenerous. I think he has been a little ungenerous. The Government are not particularly claiming the credit alone for coming to the right decision. I should have thought this was a good example of the working of democracy. The Government put their proposals forward, they are debated, and, as I told the noble Earl in this House, we have listened carefully to what was said there were discussions, and there were a number of members of the Government who also wished this particular form of solution. I would pay credit to the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. I would not say it is wholly the Thurlow Plan, because others thought of it, too, but he made some useful proposals and this approximates fairly closely to them.

I do not agree with the noble Earl in hoping that there will be many eventualities in which this force will be used, but I would certainly agree with him that whereas its specific role—and this is the justification—is the Civil Defence one, we are all glad there will be a continuing force of this kind against eventualities which cannot be foreseen. I would stress that these men will be soldiers, and they will, I hope, carry on the Territorial Army traditions.

On the particularly interesting point whether it will be a self-contained force or an organic part of the other main Emergency Volunteer Reserve, the answer is that, for a number of reasons which perhaps we have not time to go into now, it will be separate; it will not only be another tier but it will be on a different level. But we look forward—and this will depend to some extent on further discussions with the Territorial Army Council—to very close co-operation. In this we hope that the Territorial Army Council and the Associations will help to provide some of the link that will come anyway from the fact that in some areas they will use the same drill halls.


My Lords, I welcome the Statement from these Benches. I was one of those who was desperately afraid the Territorial Army would disappear, which I think would have been quite disastrous, and I am glad a solution on general terms has now been accepted by the Government, although we shall want some details. Apart from those who have struggled for this in Parliament, I think we ought to give a word of thanks to the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, and the Council of the Territorial Army Associations, all of whom have worked particularly hard behind the scenes on this plan.

There are two questions I should like to ask, both of which I regard as extremely important. The first is this: will the Territorial Army units still be linked with the Regular infantry county regiments? This link, as your Lordships know, has proved extremely valuable in days gone by, both to the Territorial Army and to the Regular Army. The second question is as to the Territorial Army drill halls. Is it proposed to retain the existing drill halls or to take a few away, or to add to them? We should like to know something, if possible, about the future of the Territorial Army drill halls.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, for one or two moments, to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the Statement he has made and to say how grateful I am to Her Majesty's Government for realising at this somewhat late hour the importance of carrying on the future of the Territorial Army. There was one matter which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, remarked on which gave me a certain amount of alarm, and as he has made the point I am not going to stress it. But in reading the Statement, when you read "self-contained" and "organised separately" you must please realise that it is absolutely essential that there shall be a link, some form of integration, because otherwise you will not get the volunteers; and as the years go on the volunteers for this new Force can be a very great help to the recruiting of the A.V.R. I only draw your Lordships' attention to that point at this moment.

I fully appreciate that in these discussions a responsibility is being put on the shoulders of my Council, and I will give an undertaking that we will do our best to make this new Force a workable one in every sense of the word. I will if I may, record my appreciation for the constant courtesy that has been extended to me on my many visits to the Ministry of Defence by the Ministers holding responsibility in that Department. I would finally remind your Lordships that we have now, after six long and weary months, come to a solution. The details will have to be worked out; but if, after all this discussion, worry, depression and uncertainty, the spirit of the volunteers is still there, then let it be known at once that if they decide to join this new force they will be serving their country as soldiers of the Queen.


My Lords, may I thank my noble friend and the Minister for having so seriously con- sidered the views that were expressed in this House and in many places elsewhere? At this immediate stage, may I put two short questions to him? First, will a fairly large number of the units that were threatened now be given a new lease of life? Secondly, will the word "Territorial" be embodied in the title of the new force?


My Lords, may I congratulate the Government on this wise decision, and say how delighted I am that the structure of the Reserve Army is to be preserved? We shall have opportunities of looking at the details when they are worked out, and I hope have a debate. I have just two questions. Can the Minister tell me whether the same assistance to the Cadets will be forthcoming from the new force? Will the T.A.W.R.A.C., for which I put in a word in my Motion in November, also be found a job?

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I will deal as quickly as I can with the various questions, and will, if I may, reserve to the end my reply to the noble Duke. First of all, one of the advantages of this proposed new force is that it will be able to give the most valuable help to the various cadets and cadet corps, and, of course, it will make available a much larger number of drill halls. To deal with that particular point of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, may I say that the number has to be worked out in detail, but undoubtedly a great number of drill halls will now be required, and of course will be required in parts of the country where the Army Volunteer Reserve, as we had previously announced, would not have been operating at all. Not the least advantage of this plan is that it will provide a national spread, particularly into such sparsely populated areas as Scotland. I am afraid I cannot answer the question in regard to the way in which women will be engaged in this particular service. I do not myself see them functioning in such a way as the armed infantry, but it may well be that there will be opportunities for service.


On the clerical side?


Yes. I do not think there will be a great deal of clerical side in this organisation, but perhaps that is one of the matters that we can look at further. I fully take Lord Thurlow's point.

My noble friend Lord Leatherland asked me two questions: first, as to how many units there will be; and then, how far they would relate to existing Territorial units. There will in fact be 80 battalions of three companies of 100 men. I should have thought there was a good prospect that the great majority of those names that are now part of our history in the Territorial Army would continue to be attached to these new units. Of course, the name is a matter on which the Government will be interested to have advice—whether it should continue to be called the "Territorial Army", or whether it should be called the "Territorial Guard", or some such name. This is a matter on which we certainly should like the advice of the Territorial Army Council. In this connection I turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for which I am most grateful, regarding the linking with the Regular county regiments. I hope this will continue, but it is a matter which we may need to go into further, if and when we have a debate, and it seems a suitable subject for a debate in due course.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, for whose help we are most grateful, made a characteristically courteous statement. I greatly appreciate his reference to the way in which he has been received by my colleague who has been Minister for the Army. I would pay a tribute particularly to the present Minister for the Army who, like his predecessor, has been deeply interested and concerned, as any Service Minister properly should be, for the traditions of the Service for which he is responsible. On the question of whether or not these are self-contained units, I am not sure that the phrase "self-contained" is in fact a revealing one. It is intended to make clear that they are distinguishable and will have a different command structure from the rest of the Army Volunteer Reserve. But I would entirely agree that it is extremely important that there should be a close link, and in this we shall, of course, look to the Territorial Army Council and to the Associations for advice and help in providing this link. It may well be, if the Territorial Army Associations will agree, that they will continue to provide some of those services, particularly in the matter of recruiting and other fields, that they have in the past provided to the Territorial Army.

The undertaking which the noble Duke gave was one which we would certainly expect from him, and I am grateful to the House for giving this plan a fair wind. I do not think this has arrived at too late an hour. "Too late an hour" rather implies that something was about to collapse overnight. I am happy to say that there are no serious signs of that happening at the moment to the Territorial Army. I think the decision has been taken in good time. When one is having to take these difficult, and sometimes agonising, decisions it is right that the considerations should be drawn out, if one is to get at the right answer; and on this occasion I think we have. I am sure that the spirit that has motivated our Volunteer and Territorial soldiers in the past will continue to motivate them in the future, and that there will be a role which, even if, as I hope, they are never called upon to discharge it in war, will still continue to be of value in the society in which we live.