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Orders of the Day — British Army (Regimental Amalgamations)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1957.

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2.46 a.m.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I have been in the House for the past eleven hours, and I am sorry that I have not been able sooner to catch Mr. Speaker's eye to deal with a subject which concerns us deeply. It was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Walter Elliot), who during the afternoon discussed for a brief moment the reorganisation of certain Army units. I am sorry to delay hon. Members with this matter, but if their regiments were being amalgamated I am sure that they would be the first to detain the House for a few moments to mention the matter.

The Queen's Bays—I must, of course, declare that I have served in the Bays—do not in any way object to amalgamation with the King's Dragoon Guards. The question that arises is the method which was used to select the regiments for amalgamation. This problem can only be known by those who understand something about the Army. Amalgamation took place after the First World War and on that occasion the amalgamations were arranged by seniority of regiments. I am referring only to the cavalry. Now, I wish to discuss the method of selection chosen on this occasion as I have been told about it.

At the meeting of the colonels of cavalry following the war memorial ceremony late in May, they expressed doubt about their future. They were given an undertaking by General McCreery that he was considering the matter under the authority of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Those colonels of the regiments heard nothing about these plans until the selection had been made.

On 16th July, without any warning, they were confronted with a fait accompli. When told the news, they had a vote on it and by a majority the recommendations made by the three officers—General McCreery, General Keightley and General Wheatley, I understand—were defeated, not necessarily by simply the regiments which were to be amalgamated, but by the consensus of opinion of cavalry colonels present at that meeting. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, as adviser to the——

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

Can my hon. Friend say whether the meeting to which he refers was a meeting in confidence? If so, has he the permission of everybody present at the meeting to say what took place?

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I have no permission to state the facts as they occurred, but as a Member of this House and having been in contact with those interested in the matter, surely this is the place for me to raise such an important subject, namely the method of selection of regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps for amalgamation as set out in the White Paper. With permission, therefore, I will say exactly what occurred.

The Chief of the Imperial General Staff then had to advise the Government on what action should be taken, and without any qualms at all——

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but I think he slightly misunderstood the point I put to him. I am not for one moment questioning his right to comment on what has happened and what decisions have been taken. What I am questioning is whether the description my hon. Friend is now giving is of a meeting which was confidential. If it was confidential, it seems to me it would be normal practice to make sure that everybody at the meeting agreed that this should be made public.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I cannot possibly answer for all those present at the meeting. All I can say is that the information I have been given is that this was the method of selection and that my regiment is one which is affected by this method. It is only the method about which I complain.

After that, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff advised the Government that, this method having been selected, it should be carried out. I understand that this matter was immediately referred to the Sovereign and agreed. I wonder whether hon. Members consider this was a particularly fair way to deal with the matter.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

Does my hon. Friend not realise that by giving—I am not saying it is a full or accurate account, or that he says it is, either—what purports to be an account of a secret, confidential meeting he may be causing an immense amount of trouble? People at the meeting will be asked whether this account is correct. They will be in great difficulty to know whether to deny or to confirm it. It puts them in an impossible situation. Will my hon. Friend accept it from me—for I am convinced of this—that he is going to cause an enormous amount of bad blood?

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

There is no question of bad blood being caused in the matter. It is only the method of which I complain. I accept the amalgamation of the regiment. I knew it had to come. Everybody was prepared to accept it. Surely, however, the colonels of the regiments should have been consulted on the matter?

In any case, it will be understood by those officers and men of the Queen's Bays that they would expect me as a former serving officer of the regiment and a Member of the House to give the House all the information I have on the subject. I am certain I have not caused any upset by saying that once the method had been accepted the only possible thing for the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to do was to recommend it. However, I do think it should have been handled, not by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, as it was, but by some people outside the army.

What has happened is this. People are blaming the Government for this decision. It was not a Government decision. All I need to say now is that it is no use blaming the Government for the arrangements that were selected. The arrangements selected were those accepted by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in person. That is all one can possibly say on behalf of the regiments which have been amalgamated. I would have accepted it readily had it been done in other ways and in better ways than those selected recently.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I should not have intervened but for the last remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates)about the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. There is no Minister here to speak on his behalf. I would place on record that, however sincerely my hon. Friend may believe that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff is, for want of a better expression, the nigger in the woodpile——

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

—I would say that there is no doubt whatever that there is no single officer in Her Majesty's Army today who has paid more attention to finding the best way possible of avoiding any amalgamation whether of cavalry regiments or others. He knows perfectly well, having served all these years, that this is bound to be a painful operation. From the information I have, I know that no one has made more considerable efforts to avoid hurting anybody than has the Chief of the Imperial General Staff himself.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.