In accordance with paragraph 4 of the White Paper on the Reorganisation of the Army Reserves, the Government have now completed their examination of the contribution that military units might best make to home defence in the event of actual or apprehended nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.
To supplement the substantial numbers of regulars and reserve forces likely to be in the United Kingdom at the time, we have decided, as my right hon. Friend has told the House, to establish a Home Defence Force. This will be a military force, based on existing Territorial Army units and forming a self-contained part of the Army Volunteer Reserve, organised separately from the independent and sponsored units described in the White Paper. It will be under military command, but its primary róle will be to assist the police in the maintenance of law and order and to act generally in support of the civil authorities in the event of a general war. It will, therefore, be closely linked with civil defence and will be widely spread throughout the United Kingdom.
The force will have an establishment of about 28,000 men with a peace-time recruiting ceiling of 22,500, representing 80 per cent. of the establishment. It will consist of lightly armed infantry type units with training and limited scales of equipment appropriate to their primary róle. The annual cost of the force should not exceed £3 million.
Subject to the necessary legislative authority, members of the force will have the same liability for call-out as the Territorial Army have now, except that they will be liable for home service only and that call-out by Queen's Order will he substituted for the existing proclamation procedure.
Discussions are now taking place between the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the Council of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations on the implementation of this decision. The title of the new force will be one of the subjects to be covered by these discussions.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side will wish at an early stage to debate these proposals, which are some improvement on the previous ones which we had before us but are by no means good enough yet, and that that is a quite separate matter from the debates which will ensue in the general defence framework?
Meanwhile, may I put two points to the Minister? First, does he realise that by insisting upon divorcing this Home Defence Force from the Army Volunteer Reserve he is prejudicing the likelihood of being able to recruit either or the success of either in the rôles assigned to them and that this is an entirely perverse approach?
Secondly, now that the Government have realised that one of the assumptions on which their proposals were based—namely, that there was no home defence rôle for the Territorial Army—was ill-founded, will they realise that many of the other assumptions were ill-founded, too, and reconsider the whole of their idea of virtually destroying the existing Territorial Army?
If the right hon. Gentleman wants a debate I assume we shall have it on the Second Reading of the necessary legislation in the not too far distant future. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Gentlemen do not want a debate on the legislation we shall be pleased to take it on the nod.
The right hon. Gentleman did say that this was a change from the decision to destroy the Territorial Army and that there was a need for a Home Defence Force. The Government have made it perfectly clear right the way through that the home defence review was going on, but that it was not financially sound to keep an Army for home defence.
If the right hon. Gentleman is really saying that 40 regiments of artillery of 25-pounder guns from the last war, with ammunition which has to be rebuilt before firing, and 20 regiments of yeomanry with armoured cars—for none of these units are there any plans for use in warfare at all—should be specially kept for home defence, he needs to have another think about the whole matter.
In so far as the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that the A.V.R. should be integrated with the Home Defence Force, that must be the most ridiculous thing one could think of, if only because that force in the event of war—the majority of it—would have gone to Germany and not be here.
As for reorganisation and training, the two forces would be separately trained, but there will be the closest possible co-operation between them.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Labour M.P.s warmly welcomed the decision on the Territorial Army, but that many of us regard today's announcement as appeasement of the Conservative "top brass"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—particularlv as it will help them to retain their social and political influence in the localities?
I think that all hon. Members will welcome the proposals, which will give us a better equipped, more easily available volunteer reserve, with a considerable saving of money at the same time. I cannot accept my hon. Friends view that this is a question of appeasement. We have been looking at the need for a Home Defence Force because the type of force in the Territorial Army today is not designed for home defence. We now feel we can produce a properly designed Home Defence Force considerably cheaper than was being done in the Territorial Army.
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that while this statement may be an improvement upon the orginal proposals it is one which, nevertheless, will be received with dismay by many thousands of men who have given untiring service to the Territorial Army?
Secondly, may I ask him whether this is a final decision of the Government, and, if so, was it taken in consultation with the Council of the Territorial Army Association?
Finally, will this force be available for peace-time use in the event of any emergency?
When the first announcement was made on the reorganisation of the Territorial Army an hon. Member from those benches welcomed it. Later, hon. Gentlemen voted against it. Now the hon. Gentleman has said he views this statement with dismay. I take it that he will vote in favour of it when the matter comes before the House.
The Council of the Territorial Army Association has been consulted confidentially on this matter. There will be continuing consultation with it as to what would be the best way to organise a force of this kind.
If hon. Gentlemen find it difficult to listen they really ought not to be sitting here.
The first part of the reply to the hon. Gentleman's question was that when the original announcement was made on the Territorial Army an hon. Member from that particular bench got up and welcomed it. Later, Liberal Members voted against it. Now we have an hon. Member on that bench saying he has received my announcement with dismay. I assume that in due course there will be, following precedent, a vote in favour of it.
The A.V.R. and Home Defence Force will have two completely separate rôles, so there would not, generally speaking, be a common training programme for them, because their rôles are completely different. So far as any number of Regular officers or other ranks are required for the running of the defence force, this is something which, within the limits of manpower and expenditure I have mentioned, we shall be discussing with the Territorial Army Association in the coming weeks.
Can my hon. Friend say how many of the existing units within the Territorial Army are likely to be found a rôle either in the reorganised reserve force or this new Home Defence Force?
If one takes the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) it will be impossible to take any more than there are already in the A.V.R., but if one takes the view that this must be a separate force it will be possible for the vast majority of major units in the Territorial Army to have a continuing existence, at any rate at company level, either in the A.V.R. or the Home Defence Force.
Will this so-called Home Defence Force have a defensive rôle and not only a rôle for the maintenance of law and order in unlikely circumstances? When the hon. Gentleman said that the new Home Defence Force would be better equipped than the present Territorial Army, did he really mean a at? What sort of equipment is it going to have?
It will be better equipped than the Territorial Army. The Home Defence Force will be fitted out as very light infantry. Its primary rôle, as I said in my statement, would be in helping the civil powers in the maintenance of law and order if called for after a nuclear attack, but it will also be used to engage enemy forces if they were in this country.