HL Deb 04 December 1979 vol 403 cc572-6

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what further steps they are taking to improve the capability of the Territorial Army.

The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of DEFENCE (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal)

My Lords, the Government have already taken a major step towards improving the capability of the Territorial Army by putting into effect the main recommendations of the Shapland Report. These include the increase in bounties, which we are confident will significantly cut down the losses in trained manpower which the TA has experienced in recent years as well as providing an attractive incentive to potential recruits; and a number of further measures to improve training standards. In addition we have set in hand an examination of all TA equipment scales with a view to establishing the feasibility of making further improvements.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I should like to press him a little further on the Shapland Report, particularly as regards the recommendation made in that report about improving public relations on behalf of the Territorial Army. Coupled with that, can he say whether the Government support the suggestion that they might encourage their own agencies, the nationalised industries and commerce and industry as a whole, to adopt a positive attitude towards recruitment into the Territorial Army?


My Lords, it is not so much a question of recruitment into the Territorial Army, as one of allowing time for people to take up their training obligations. However, there are some major employers, of whom the Civil Service is one, who give special leave for Territorial Army members, and that is something that we hope will commend itself to more employers. We are looking at what steps we can take to encourage employers to support the Territorial Army in this way, but we agree with the Shapland Report that it would be a mistake to introduce legislation on these lines.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that I find his reply far from satisfactory? Apart from some increase in the bounty—and that is a mere pittance, and is hardly an encouragement for large numbers to join the Territorial Army—is he aware that it is quite impossible to assess the capability of the Territorial Army which, in view of the international situation, is becoming increasingly urgent every day? At present the numbers do not exceed 60,000, which is a mere bagatelle compared to our population and the number of young men and adults available.

Is the noble Lord also aware that we are far from satisfied about the lack of most modern equipment being made available to those who serve in the Territorial Army? Will the Government regard this matter as one of extreme urgency and realise that many of us, who, despite opposition, for many years have been advocating an increase in the Territorial Forces, believe that the time has come to provide something as an alternative, especially in view of the fact that there is conscription in every other European country?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, although naturally I am sorry that he does not find my first Answer satisfactory. We have had a comparatively short time in which to do anything about what we have found, but we have acknowledged that there are some shortcomings in the Territorial Army equipment. Last June in this House I announced that we had begun to make enhancements in weapons at a cost of £1.5 million. We have set in hand a review of all Territorial Army equipment to see in what way it might be most cost-effectively enhanced.


My Lords, as an honouary colonel in the Territorial Army unit, I should like to ask whether the noble Lord is aware that over two years ago some units were promised modern wireless sets? The present Government have now been in office for over six months and these shortcomings have still not been remedied. That is one example, but I can give the Minister many others.


My Lords, the simplest answer that I can give the noble Lord is that wireless equipment is one of the areas where we recognise that there are shortcomings.


My Lords, with regard to the original Question, is my noble friend satisfied that sufficient fuel is available to ensure that Territorial Army premises are reasonably heated during the winter months?—because in the coldest periods last year that certainly was not the case, greatly to the detriment of the training of the Territorial Army.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that suggestion; I was not aware of that fact. If he has a case about which he would care to let me know, I shall be glad to look into it. I suspect that it is more a question of money than of oil, but I should like to learn.


My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the fundamental question relating to the Territorial Army concerns its purpose? Earlier he said that his Government had been in office for only six months. The Conservative Government were in office from 1951 to 1964 and from 1970 to 1974, and during neither of those periods did they give the slightest indication of what they wanted to do. Do they want to use the Territorial Army as a source of re-enforcement to the Regular Army, or is it to be preserved in its entirety and used as Territorial Army units? Until they make up their mind about that, they will go on wasting time and money and they will also destroy the patriotism of those young men who give up their time for this purpose.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord is being unduly gloomy. I suggest that he will have an opportunity to address this question in the debate that my noble friend has tabled for next week. We see two roles for the Territorial Army. One is home defence and the other is in support of our forces overseas.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how far below establishment is the present strength of the Territorial Army? I do not think it is many thousand. Secondly, is it possible for the Territorial Army to be trained in some of the very modern, scientific weapons which are now available?


My Lords, the second half of the noble Lord's question is rather easier to answer than the first. I do not think that information on his first question is in my brief and I shall have to write to him on the question of numbers. On training, we are satisfied that it is possible, and we are addressing ourselves to the problem of training the Territorial Army in the use of the equivalent weapons which are issued to the Regular Army. That is the basic policy. It is sometimes suggested that the Territorial Army should use inferior weapons, on a sort of second-class basis. That is not currently the policy which the Ministry of Defence would wish to pursue.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I personally do not find Government policy guilty or unsatisfactory? I put this simple question to him. Will the Government consider organising a campaign throughout the country in order to encourage existing members of the Territorial Army and to increase the forces in that capability?


My Lords, I cannot imagine a better protagonist than the noble Lord to do exactly what he is suggesting, and I think it is an excellent idea.

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