HL Deb 26 March 1984 vol 450 cc22-7

3.54 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the Territorial Army. The Statement is as follows:

"The House will recall the Government's commitment to enhance our volunteer reserve forces. Two years ago my predecessor announced improvements in our support to the Territorial Army and our plans to expand it to 86,000 by 1990. I am now able to announce the second and more ambitious phase of these plans.

"In considering where and how to enhance the Territorial Army we have been guided by a number of principles. Most important is the operational requirement both in the European theatre and in home defence. We have also been conscious of recruiting potential, the availability of suitable facilities, and, in particular, the importance of the regimental traditions and local affiliations.

"Wherever appropriate, we have used the expansion plans to restructure and reorganise the Territorial Army infantry units. This will improve command and control and reduce their geographical spread, which has long been a matter of concern. Although final details remain to be decided, I can give the House an outline of our plans.

"We propose to raise six new infantry battalions: in North Yorkshire and Cleveland; in Yorkshire; in Greater Manchester and Cheshire; in Devon and Cornwall; in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire; and in London. We intend to raise a new armoured reconnaissance squadron in the Newcastle area. A new air defence regiment will be formed in Scotland and a further battery added to each of the three existing regiments. All will be equipped with the Javelin guided missile.

"The House may be particularly interested to learn that we plan to form for the first time a Territorial Army Air Corps squadron, equipped with Scout helicopters. We shall also form new logistic and support units, including an ordnance unit in Bristol, a medical unit in Cambridge and a transport squadron in Wales.

"We plan also to enhance the Territorial Army's equipment. The number of guns in field artillery regiments will be increased. The infantry will recieve, along with its regular counterparts, the new anti-tank weapon LAW 80 and new small arms. TA battalions in the 2nd Infantry Division will be equipped with more mortars. Our plans are to be implemented from 1986 onwards. They are set out in greater detail in an Open Government document published today, which I have placed in the Vote Office.

"These measures will significantly increase our conventional capability, both in the United Kingdom and in Germany. They will stengthen the credibility of NATO's conventional deterrence. But for successful expansion the Territorial Army needs to recruit and retain its manpower. We are considering practical measures to assist in this, and have launched a major drive to increase employer support. I hope the House will join me in encouraging the employers of reserve soldiers to help and support them where they can.

"The Territorial Army provides over 25 per cent. of the Army's mobilised strength at a cost of only 4½ per cent. of the Army budget. The House will wish me to pay tribute to those who are already serving members of our volunteer reserves, not only in the Territorial Army, but in the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Marine Reserve, and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. These men and women devote much of their spare time to valuable service in the defence of our country. Their dedication deserves the full support of the House, and of the community at large. They are a symbol of the British people's commitment to NATO's defence."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement, and copies of the Open Government document are available now in the Printed Paper Office.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, the House will be grateful for the Statement, which is, of course, timely in view of changing trends and the greater sophistication of defence. The Minister has rightly referred to the weapons that will be in use. The House will, I am sure, welcome in particular the significant increase in our conventional capability, both in the United Kingdom and Germany, and also in the credibility of our NATO conventional deterrence. We note the fact that the TA provides over a quarter of the Army's mobilised strength at a cost of 4½ per cent. of the Army's budget. Can the Minister say what will be the increase in numbers if there are to be 86,000 by 1990? Has he any idea of the real cost? With regard to recruiting potential, this appears to refer to the pool of unemployed. Can the Minister report any progress on the young unemployed entering as part of the youth training scheme?

We also welcome the reference to the new air defence regiment and the Territorial Army Air Corps squadron. There will of course be interest in the maritime role. Although the Statement is not about reserves generally, will the Minister comment on that? We recognise that the Territorial Army depends not only on the dedication of those who are recruits and who join the forces, but also on their employers; and, indeed, reference is made to a scheme for a major drive with employers. I should also like to pay tribute to the fellow staff of those in jobs, as well as to the families of the volunteers, whose co-operation makes their work possible.

Finally, we pay tribute to the Territorial Army. While we recognise the traditions and the dedication of the territorial units in war and in peace, we recognise, too. their contribution to keeping our forces up to date. Doubtless noble Lords will be referring to certain areas of interest and to the traditions around the country. I have a particular interest, of course, in the Sherwood Foresters and the Gloucesters. But the service depends not only on traditions: it depends on the contribution which is to be made in the future, and the Statement reflects that need. I am sure we shall study the document in the Library with great interest.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it is a happy occasion when the Secretary of State for Defence makes a proposal which is warmly supported by all the political parties? I am sure that my noble friends would want me to express our appreciation of those who give up their time for this voluntary service; to express our hope that recruitment will go well; and to urge employers to support those who make this type of sacrifice.

Is the noble Lord prepared to say that this move is at least a first step towards creating conditions in which NATO will never have to use nuclear weapons first in Europe? I should like to ask the noble Lord what the figures of recruitment have been in the last three years, and whether they are on target for 1990. I should also like to ask him about the date. I interpret the phrase, "from 1986 onwards", as meaning that nothing will be implemented for about three years from now. Is that due to manpower difficulties, or money? Finally, is the noble Lord aware that those with territorial experience know the great value of local loyalties, not only in recruitment but in raising and sustaining morale in battle?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their most helpful reception of this Statement. Perhaps I can answer some of the points—particularly those that do not appear in the Open Government document—put to me by both noble Lords. First, let me deal with the point about numbers that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston. As the Statement says, it is proposed to increase the Territorial Army, starting in 1986. to 86,000. The present strength of the Territorial Army is something like 71,000, so we are looking to increase the numbers by about 15,000 over that period.

I should like to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, as to what is to happen between now and 1986. What my right honourable friend has announced today and what I have repeated is, of course, the second phase of territorial enhancements. Phase 1, which was announced by my right honourable friend Sir John Nott when he was Secretary of State for Defence, is of course already in hand and will be taking place between now and 1986. This is the second phase of the enhancements, which are to be put in train after the completion of the first phase. Incidentally, the cost of this second phase will be of the order of £140 million in capital terms, and about £30 million in annual costs thereafter. The present total cost of the Territorial Army is of the order of £220 million.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, asked me also about the NATO position of these forces. Of course a large number of the Territorial Army units are assigned to NATO and would, indeed, be sent to Germany when so required. That is why we are having "Exercise Lionheart" later this year, which will be a major exercise of territorial mobilisation, and no doubt will prove very valuable.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred also to local loyalties. We have gone to great lengths in formulating these plans to maintain the local loyalties which are so strong in many of these areas, not only for the reasons which the noble Lord mentioned but also, as I think he recognises, too, for purposes of recruitment, because they are, indeed, valuable in that context as well. Those are the principal points which have been put to me by noble Lords, but if there are any other I shall be happy to try to answer them.

Lord Kilmany

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the most promising announcement that he has made. I should like to ask him whether the newspaper reports that one has read recently have been correct in mentioning the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry as one of the regiments that will be recreated. If I am right in that regard, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the Lothians and Border Horse are another yeomanry regiment of the utmost excellence.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am certain that my noble friend is correct in what he says, but I have to say that we are taking great care in the selection of the names of the new units, not least because of the intense rivalries, as witnessed by my noble friend's remarks.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister explain what he had in mind when he said that the infantry would be issued with a new type of small arm? What particular type of arm is that to be?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, new weapons are progressively being issued, both to the regular forces and, in due course, to the territorial units, and it is those weapons to which I referred. If the noble Lord would like more detail I shall be happy to write to him.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, a lot of us were brought up in the first war on the short Lee Enfield. Is that to be abolished and replaced by a different kind of rifle?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am sorry to have to tell the noble Lord that there are now no Lee Enfields available for issue.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who, like myself and many of your Lordships, have served in the Territorial Army will very much welcome this Statement? Can my noble friend say whether the regiments which lost their identities under the 1957 White Paper will in any way be able to reclaim them, because this does so much for morale? Secondly, will there be an extension of overseas training? My noble friend made reference to NATO, but will there be an extension of camp training with units of the British Army of the Rhine and possibly in Cyprus and elsewhere?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have referred already to "Exercise Lionheart" which is to take place later this year and which, I think I am right in saying, will involve 130,000 or more soldiers, many of whom will be territorials. It ought to be said that overseas training presents something of a problem for territorials because, of course, their time is limited, and one wants to be sure that they do not spend too much of that valuable time travelling to or from their training areas. But wherever there is an opportunity for them to train effectively overseas—for example, in "Exercise Lionheart" this year—then that will be taken. But I cannot promise that there will be any great extension of overseas training for the territorials within the new proposals to which I am referring today.

As for the other matters raised earlier by my noble friend, I should tell him that all of those matters, particularly those relating to the names of the new units, are to be very carefully considered. However, I should warn my noble friend that there are a large number of competing claims for the names of these new units.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, bearing in mind what my noble friend Lord Kilmany has said, as I understood it the main thrust of the Statement was as regards the Air Force. I am quite certain that my noble friend the Minister will agree that the Scottish contribution to the Territorial Army has been much greater than that in the past, and I hope that not only will the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Kilmany be accepted but that there may be other efforts that the Scottish may make in this regard.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall certainly want to do that. Indeed, the Statement contains a number of proposals in that direction.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that nothing could do more to increase the confidence and help the morale of those who are already serving their country in the Territorial Army than this expression of confidence by Her Majesty's Government in the reserve forces? If the reports in the newspapers are true, that the Government propose to reconstitute some of the old territorial regiments that have been lost, this will surely be a massive aid to recruitment. Finally, is it expected that there will be any comparable increase in second line service and transport units to match the increase in the infantry battalions?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, to answer the last of my noble friend's questions first, yes, there are some increases in the support units implicit in what we have announced today. For example, there will be another RCT squadron, another field ambulance and a new ordnance company, together with the other units that I have already mentioned. I certainly accept what my noble friend says, that the steps which we are taking should have some effect on recruitment. To be truthful, the problem is not so much one of securing a sufficient number of recruits for the Territorial Army as one of persuading them to remain in the Territorial Army for longer than they do at present. Retention is one of the difficulties that we are presently facing, and we are doing what we can to overcome that difficulty.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I understand that the auxiliary air force will be given pilot training. Can my noble friend give some idea to what stage it is intended to take them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I did not say that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force is to be given pilot training, although that is a matter that is under consideration. I said that there will be a new Army Air Corps squadron flying helicopters. It is anticipated that the pilots for that squadron will, in fact, be those with former Army Air Corps experience, and are not likely, therefore, to be trained from scratch. On the point of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, that is a matter which we are considering further.

The Earl of Glasgow

My Lords, I should like to clear up one point. Did I understand my noble friend to say that there would be no new territorial battalion recruited in Scotland?

Lord Trefgarne

No, my Lords, that is not so.