With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve.
The House will recall that this Reserve—the "Ever-readies"—was set up in 1962 to provide a source of individual reinforcement for units under strength in areas of tension. Its members are all volunteers who receive a special bounty of £150 a year in return for an obligation to serve for up to six months. The "Ever-readies" have done very well during training in overseas theatres with Regular Army units. So far, none of them has been called out for service under their liability.
My right hon. Friend has now decided to exercise his powers under Section 3 of the Army Reserve Act, 1962, to call up about 175 members of the "Ever-readies" for service with the Regular Army in the Middle East, in the Far East, and with the United Nations force in Cyprus.
The necessity for this step springs from the fact that the Army has been engaged continuously in emergency operations overseas for over two years. This has had a cumulative effect and creates difficulties which are serious, though, I hope, temporary.
We now have on emergency tours overseas without their families a brigade headquarters, nine infantry battalions, two armoured car squadrons, one artillery regiment, two engineer squadrons and about 600 individual soldiers.
The result is that many men in the Army have not had much opportunity of home service and of being united with their families. The long-term effect of this on recruitment and re-engagement in the Regular Army cannot be disregarded.
The officers and men to be called out are mainly infantry, together with small numbers of officers and men of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Intelligence Corps and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
The men selected for call-out will receive their orders within a few days. All of them will get at least a month's notice of call-out. This is the first occasion on which members of the T.A.E.R. have been called out for normal service with the Regular Army, with whom they have been undergoing periods of training. I am sure that they will discharge their obligations with credit.
As the right hon. Gentleman says, this is the first time that this Reserve has been called out. It was always designed to be at the immediate disposal of the Secretary of State. It seems that this is a comparatively small call-up of 175 men. They will be scattered over a number of theatres.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how they will be divided between the different theatres? I understand that he cannot commit himself far into the future, but is this, in the situation as he sees it at present, a once-for-all call-up, or does he envisage that this will be the first of other announcements to the effect that other men will be called up?
Finally, Section 4(3) of the Army Reserve Act, 1962, imposes an obligation on the Secretary of State for Defence to keep the House informed on occasions when this Reserve is called to the colours. The right hon. Gentleman has said that all these men will receive at least one month's notice of call-out. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that he will keep the House fully informed on this.
I am glad to give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that we will keep the House informed. Indeed, the Act imposes on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the obligation to tell the House from time to time, but we thought it right, before taking any steps to implement this decision, that the House should be first informed. That is why I have made this statement today. We certainly have no plans, in the light of existing commitments, for further call-up, but if circumstances change we should have to consider the situation in the light of the changed circumstances.
As to the theatres, the main body to be called up is a company to reinforce the Royal Sussex Battalion going to Aden. The other categories are key specialist personnel to fill vacancies in a number of units in all three Commands—Middle East, Far East and Cyprus.
This is a very simple question to pose. Of course, we would find these men and continue to find numbers of men to meet a grave operational need, but we have to have regard to the question of enabling soldiers to spend a reasonable time with their families. Again, it does not make very much sense to take a number of key personnel from a unit in this country or elsewhere, which might be called upon to fill an emergency role, and use them in a particular unit already in the Far East or Aden.
A great deal of the difficulty arises because throughout last year individuals and units were being sent out on six months and nine months' emergency tours without their families, and it would be very bad for morale if we did not bring them back on the dates promised. It is a case of replacing these personnel now, and I believe after very careful thought that this is the best way to do it.
Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the soldiers who are being called up are certain to get their jobs back when they finish? Will he do his best to ensure, certainly so far as the infantry are concerned, that they get a chance to serve as far as possible with their own regiments?
We are giving priority to all the "Ever-readies" who belong to the Royal Sussex Battalion, and the rest will be taken up from the Home Counties Brigade—the brigade of which the Royal Sussex Battalion forms a part. We shall not go beyond that brigade in order to find the infantry.
The 1962 Act guarantees the return of jobs on exactly the same basis as the National Service Acts.
I have no information that any hon. Members are also members of the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve, but if my hon. Friend has any candidates in mind, no doubt we can have a word about it afterwards.
No doubt, the Minister will be aware that the way in which he has had to make this statement will cause considerable uncertainty amongst all members of the "Ever-readies", although only about 5 per cent. of them will be called up. Has he any proposals for ending this period of uncertainty as quickly as possible? Will he write to all those members of the "Ever-readies" who are not to be called up, as well as those who are to be called up, to say that they are not needed at this point?
The hon. Gentleman has underlined a great difficulty for Ministers. We could have sent out notices to all the people concerned so that there would have been no uncertainty before we made a public statement to the House, but I would have thought that the possibility of this being disclosed to the newspapers ahead of time was extremely likely, and we thought it our first duty to inform, the House of Commons.
If one takes this view, there must be inconvenience to the soldiers concerned. We informed the House first, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend expressed the view that that was the right course. We shall, of course, send out the notices as soon as possible.
As to the question about the infantry, we shall not go beyond the Home Counties Brigade. The Royal Engineers and the R.E.M.E. are specialists who are in short supply and, as the hon. Gentleman knows from his own visit to the Far East, one of the difficulties in the Far East theatre is that whereas a number of trades might be performed by civilians in Germany or in other parts, in Borneo we have to employ the military to do maintenance work.