HL Deb 20 July 1960 vol 225 cc538-42

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the debate again, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War has just made a statement in another place on the future of the Territorial Army and I thought it would be for the convenience of your Lordships to repeat it here. The statement runs as follows.

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 to-day. 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 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 shall 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. 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.

My right honourable friend has 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 the Government believe, therefore, that it will have the support of the Territorial Army as a whole.


My Lords, I find it a little difficult to comment specifically upon this statement. I am not quite sure that I understand it all and whether the total overall strength available to the country is to 'be specifically reduced, or whether, taking the contribution of both Regular Forces and Territorials, it may be argued that the available strength is not to be reduced. On that I am not clear from this statement, Which deals entirely with the Territorial Army. I am a little anxious on the basis that it is stated that it is proposed to keep an establishment of only two-thirds, and yet, at the end of the statement, confidence is expressed that we shall be able to maintain greater youth in the organisation. What is the limit to be placed on the service of a volunteer Territorial? And if the units are to be confined Ito two-thirds of the establishment, are men to be put out after so many years' service, or will it be necessary to restrict youthful entrants because the two-thirds establishment cannot be exceeded?


My Lords, the total strength of the Territorial Army will be its volunteer strength at the moment. This will be something in the region of 120,000 or thereabouts—which is the number of volunteers at present. I am afraid I cannot answer the noble Viscount's question about the length of service a man may be allowed to do in the Territory Army, but the idea is that we shall keep these fewer units at much higher strength than units are at the present time. The number of units will come down, but their strength will considerably increase; and the remaining one-third will be found from Territorial reserves.


My Lords, I believe that, in general, the statement is on the right lines. In fact, it follows to some extent what some of us put forward in the debate on Wednesday last. There are only two points on which I should like reassurance from Her Majesty's Government. First, in any reduction that takes place, will the Government take the greatest care to get the consent of the local units? Because, as the noble Lord knows, the Territorial Army is based to a large extent on local tradition and very much on local patriotism, and that has to be borne in mind. The second point is, will the noble Lord and the Government take great care over this two-thirds establishment position? Like the noble Viscount, I am not at all sure about that, and having been a unit commander in the Territorial Army I know how difficult it often is to work a regiment, a battalion or a company, on a two-thirds basis. That is very difficult for training purposes and administration. If a regiment or battalion is in a position to recruit up to 100 per cent., is there any point in keeping the total down to the two-thirds basis?


My Lords, I believe that to suggest "consent" here would be carrying it a little too far. My right honourable friend has assured the House that he will consult Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations, and no doubt he will take into account any representations made to him. His idea is to carry everyone with him. With regard to the second question, I will pass on the noble Lord's observations to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, is representation on the local associations to remain as at the present time? The noble Lord knows that it is vital to the Territorial Army associations to have a close connection with the community.


My Lords, I am sure that that is so. I could not say about the numbers, but I am quite certain that it is the intention of my right honourable friend to keep the local associations going as strongly as ever before.


My Lords, before we pass on to the next Business, I must say that I know quite well that this plan for the Territorial Army which has just been announced by my noble friend represents a great deal of careful thought and work on the part of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War and his advisers; and it also, to my thinking, represents much closer consultation with the Territorial Associations and people who know the affairs of the Territorial Army first-hand than we have had, in my recollection, in certain cases in the past.

That leads me to say one more thing, which is that I agreed very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, when he said, I think, that it is not only a question of the plan's being right but of the implementation of the plan; that is to say, the consequential matters which have now to be discussed with commands, as my noble friend mentioned, must be handled in the same generous and far-sighted spirit as the main announcement, if full success for this announcement is to be reached.


My Lords, I am sure that the Secretary of State for War and the War Office will be very happy to receive that bunch of flowers.