§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Christopher Soames)
Her Majesty's Government have decided upon a reorganisation of the Territorial Army.
Recruitment in the Territorial Army is going well, and volunteer strength has risen from 70,000 in 1957 to about 120,000 today. But the rôle and organisation of the Territorial Army needs to be adapted to modern defence requirements, having regard to the ending of National Service. Its rôle will lie in the 498 reinforcement of the Regular Army at home and overseas, in support of the civil Power, and as a framework for military expansion.
The Territorial Army will have to be ready, if necessary, to act with speed. It must, therefore, be sharpened, with stronger and better equipped units. Efficiency will be more important than mass, and we accordingly propose to keep the active volunteer strength at about its present total.
Divisional and district headquarters will be amalgamated, and traditional titles will be retained. The primary rôle of these headquarters will be administration and support of the civil Power. The brigade will be the largest fighting formation.
The number of units now in the Territorial Army is geared to a total establishment of 300,000. But, with the ending of National Service reserve liability, this will become a totally unrealistic figure. Moreover, the peace-time volunteer strength cannot maintain so many units at a viable figure for unit training. So a feature of the reorganisation must inevitably be a reduction in the number of units of all arms. Our aim will be to keep units in peace-time at approximately two-thirds of their establishment. A volunteer reserve will be formed from men who have finished their service in the Territorial Army and on mobilisation this reserve will be used to bring units up to establishment.
For the reduction in the number of units we shall proceed by amalgamation rather than disbandment and in close consultation with the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations. We will be guided by the need to preserve a nation-wide cover. The changes which will result will be published in the autumn.
The Territorial Army has suffered from a lack of modern training equipment. We now intend to provide the reorganised force with scales of some of the more important items in current use with the Regular Army, including rifles, wireless sets, armoured cars, scout cars and transport. This process will begin this year.
As a result of this reorganisation, we shall have a more closely knit Territorial Army, with units at a higher strength, and better related to its modern rôles. 499 It will be better equipped than ever before in its peace-time history, and more able to train realistically for its important and diverse duties. It will be more youthful and will, I believe, have an even greater sense of military purpose.
I have presented the outline of this plan and the reasons for it to the Territorial Army Advisory Committee and to the chairmen of the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations. I am glad to report to the House that they have agreed both to its need and its purpose, and I hope, therefore, that it will have the support of the Territorial Army as a whole.
§ Mr. Strachey
I should like to ask the Secretary of State for War three questions on this statement. The first is about equipment. He tells us that the new Territorial Army will have new equipment, and he uses the rather strange phrase, "including rifles". That is reassuring, as far as it goes, but we should rather like to know which rifles. Has he in mind the new F.N. automatic rifle or the old rifle? Will he deny or confirm the rather alarming report which has been in the Press that some of the new Territorials are to have the F.N. automatic rifle but not all of them? If this is so, does he think that it is a tolerable or a tenable position that this force should be armed some with one type of rifle and some with another? Generally, will he expand a little about the equipment, because it is of the utmost importance. The equipment must surely come after the re-equipment of the Regular Army. Can he assure the House that this re-equipment, both with rifles and with any other equipment, will be pushed on?
My second question is about the rôles. I fully understand the need for emphasising the military rôles of the Territorial Army, but is the phrasein support of the civil Powermeant to cover the civil defence rôle of the Territorial Army, because I think this is very important and that we should not lose sight of it? It should always be kept in mind that the force is of great importance for this purpose.
Thirdly, may we assume that the Territorial Army will be wholly a conventional force and that there is no ques- 500 tion of its receiving tactical nuclear weapons? If it is so, how can it be expected to fulfil the purpose to which the Secretary of State refers, ofthe reinforcement of the Regular Army at home and overseas"?My impression of the Regular Army in Germany was that it is coming more and more to think of itself in an exclusively nuclear rôle. If the Territorial Army is entirely conventional, how can it possibly act as a reinforcement to a nuclearised Regular Army? Is not this an additional reason for keeping alive the conventional rôle of the Regular Army—not merely paying lip-service to it but, in equipment and training, keeping alive the conventional rôle?
§ Mr. Soames
May I answer the last question first? The Territorial Army will be equipped entirely with conventional weapons. Although the Army in B.A.O.R. has a nuclear capability, it is primarily a conventional force. There are a few units with a nuclear capability, but of the 50,000-odd men in B.A.O.R. only a very small proportion are handling nuclear weapons.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the phrasein support of the civil Powerincluded civil defence, and the answer is, "Yes, it does".
As the right hon. Gentleman supposes, the Territorial Army will be provided with the equipment which I have mentioned after the Regular Army has been fully equipped. We are proposing to issue the wireless sets fairly soon. The Regular Army is already equipped with Ferret scout cars and Saladins and the Regular Army will very shortly be equipped with the wireless sets. The rifle which is in use in the Territorial Army at the moment is the Lee Enfield. That will continue. They will still have the Lee Enfield rifle, but a number of the new F.N. rifles will be issued to each unit so that individuals may train and shoot with them and learn how to handle them.
§ Sir O. Prior-Palmer
On the assumption that the time was ripe for a general reorganisation of the Territorial Army. I suggest that this seems to be an imaginative and sensible scheme which will kill the wild rumours which have 501 been circulating recently in various countries. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will use his influence to see that amalgamations are carried out on a geographical basis, taking into account geographical proximity and historical association? They should not be made on the same basis as they have been made in the recent past, for example, in the case of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry, which was amalgamated with a regiment in London. That sort of thing does not work. I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that and ensure that it does not happen again.
Will he agree that his statement, especially his announcement about equipment, will probably inject a new sense of purpose into the Territorial Army, which, possibly, was lacking recently?
§ Mr. Soames
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his approval of the scheme. I agree with him that the reorganisation, with the units at a higher establishment and also having better equipment, will give the Territorial Army a greater sense of purpose. Each amalgamation will be worked out with the Territorial Army associations themselves. One of the primary considerations in this is geographical and territorial associations, which are so important lo these volunteer forces.
§ Mr. Wigg
Although one will need a little time to study the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the statement, certainly to the extent that it gives the Territorial Army a sense of purpose and will, therefore, raise its morale.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman some very obvious questions? First, to what extent does this statement modify the statement already contained in his Estimates of the threefold purpose of the Territorial Army? The first purpose is to support in an active rôle the British Army on the Rhine. The second purpose is the initial task of home defence in all its aspects. The third purpose is the anti-aircraft rôle. Have these been modified in any way?
Secondly, at present the Territorial Army has a liability to be called out without proclamation for home defence and overseas when the General Reserve 502 is called out by proclamations. Is this liability modified?
Thirdly, do the right hon. Gentleman's proposals in any way involve the amendment of either the 1907 Act or the 1921 Act? If so, when will legislation be introduced?
The fourth question is very obvious. What is the extent to which the Territorial Army falls within the scope of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act, 1953? To what extent shall we have legislation on that subject?
§ Mr. Soames
As regards the role, the main difference between what the hon. Gentleman read out and what it will be is that the anti-aircraft rôle of the Territorial Army for the air defence of the United Kingdom is disappearing, because the Bofors gun is not capable of reaching the heights at which aircraft fly today.
The position as regards proclamation remains exactly the same. We do not expect to alter it. We do not intend to alter it. I do not envisage any amendment being necessary to the Acts of 1907, 1921 and 1953 as a result of this reorganisation.
§ Mr. W. Yates
I am a serving officer in the T.A. As we are now to be equipped with rifles and wirelesses, for which we are very grateful, will my right hon. Friend consider the important rôle the T.A. will have to play if it is to support Regular units? Though it does some training with the Regular Army at annual camps, will my right hon. Friend consider arranging for further training, particularly with the Royal Air Force, as vehicles may have to be carried by air, and also with the Royal Navy as we may be required to move by sea? As there is to be no alteration in the proclamation position, I do not see how we are to manage the rôle of supporting the Regular Army when required.
§ Mr. Soames
I believe that training will be much more realistic now, with units brought up to two-thirds of their establishment. All Territorial Army units will get much more benefit from training in the future than they have in the past, when so many of them were at very low strength indeed. As to further training with the Royal Air Force 503 and the Royal Navy, already quite a lot of training is done with the R.A.F. by the Territorial Parachute Brigade, and that will continue. We do not intend to alter the position about the proclamation. The support of the Regular Army overseas by the Territorial Army would only be after proclamation.
§ Mr. Swingler
As Parliament has voted over £13,000 million for the Armed Forces in the past nine years, is it not humiliating for the Secretary of State only now to be able to come forward and say that he will supply the T.A. with radio sets and scout cars? Would the Secretary of State now support an investigation into why this could not have been done before and where all this money has gone?
§ Mr. Soames
No. Far from finding it humiliating, I find it very exciting to be able to report this today. I am delighted to be able to do so. The money which Parliament has voted in the last few years has not included equipment for the Territorial Army.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
Order. I have reason to think that the House may have an opportunity of debating this matter, with a Question before it, fairly soon.