Royal Scots Fusiliers and Highland Light Infantry

Oral Answers to Questions — British Army – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 1957.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 11th December 1957

asked the Secretary of State for War what reduction of expenditure he estimates will follow the merging of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

At this stage it is impossible to give a reliable estimate to the hon. Member, but plainly there will be considerable savings.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will he tell us whether that considerable reduction will mean the closing down of the Churchill Barracks at Ayr and handing it over to the civilian authorities?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

Perhaps the hon. Member will put down a Question on that quite separate issue.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr

Would it not be better for the hon. Member for Ayr to put a Question on the Order Paper?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement on the resignations of the colonels of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry.

Photo of Sir John Henderson Sir John Henderson , Glasgow Cathcart

asked the Secretary of State for War what reasons prompted him to instruct Major-General Hakewill Smith of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and Major-General Urquhart of the Highland Light Infantry to submit their resignations as colonels-in-chief of their regiments; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) why he instructed the colonels of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry to resign;

(2) what recent steps he has taken to induce the Highland Light Infantry to amalgamate with the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Photo of Mr Eric Bullus Mr Eric Bullus , Wembley North

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will state his objections to the wearing of the kilt by the new regiment to be formed from the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

I must apologise for the length of the answer.

After discussions, which began in August and continued till early November, only one point of difference remained between the Army Council and the Colonels of the two regiments. This was whether the amalgamated regiment should wear trews or the kilt. On a point of dress like this I would have preferred to meet the wishes of the regiments, but I felt bound for two reasons to maintain the Army Council's decision that the amalgamated regiment should wear trews.

The first reason is that the other colonels of both the Highland and Lowland Brigade have given me their unanimous and emphatic view that the wearing of the kilt by a regiment forming part of the Lowland Brigade is unacceptable to both Highland and Lowland Regiments. The second reason is a practical one. The new amalgamated regiment will be one of four within the Lowland Brigade. In future senior officers and senior N.C.Os. will be on a common roll for promotion within the regiments forming the Brigade. In addition, regiments of the Brigade abroad will be brought up to strength by postings from regiments at home. To submit officers and other ranks to the need to change from kilt to trews, or alternatively from trews to kilt on posting would, I am advised, be most unwelcome to other Lowlanders in the Brigade.

So, on 19th November, I informed the colonels that, if they could not accept the decision of the Army Council on this one outstanding issue, I must of necessity, and with great reluctance, ask them to submit their resignations.

Both officers in their replies reaffirmed their view that the amalgamated regiment should wear the kilt. They recommended that, if this was not acceptable to the Army Council, the two regiments should be disbanded. Accordingly, they offered their resignations. On 2nd December, I informed both colonels that I proposed to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen that their resignations should he accepted as soon as their successors had taken office. I am grateful to both colonels for offering to serve until then.

Neither I nor the Army Council consider that the disbandment should be accepted so long as any chance remains of bringing about amalgamation: I have hope that, with good will agreement can be reached.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr

Whilst accepting a lot of what my right hon. Friend has said as representing the views of the War Office and of the Army Council, may. I ask whether he does not surely agree that it is a short-sighted and ill-advised policy so deeply to offend Scottish sentiment and opinion and also lose the services of two such distinguished officers on a matter which to all of us seems not one of real principle? Would my right hon. Friend look at the matter again?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

I have endeavoured in my reply to tell my hon. Friend the two main reasons why I felt I had to act as I did. We ought to try to treat this with a sense of proportion. Taking the purely traditional view, the Royal Scots Fusiliers have had trews throughout their history. From 1809 to 1947, the Highland Light Infantry—before that they were the 71st Foot—wore trews. In other words, if my mathematics are right, in only ten years out of the 148 have the Highland Light Infantry worn the kilt.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Is the Minister aware that there has been an election among the officers in which there was a two-thirds majority for disbanding the regiment? In view of the fact that the Government agree with free elections in the E.T.U. and in Eastern Germany, how can they turn down this one? Does the Minister realise that if there were a ballot of the men it would be 200 to one for disbanding the regiment? Is he aware that they are not interested in trews or the kilt but in getting back into civvies?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

I know that the hon. Member feels strongly on this and that one of his great ambitions in life is to have the British Army disbanded altogether.

Photo of Sir John Henderson Sir John Henderson , Glasgow Cathcart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday in another place a noble Lord stated, and I read his words from HANSARD—

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The hon. Member should not refer to debates in another place, except to cite the opinion of a noble Lord who speaks as a Minister. We have nothing to do with what is said by a noble Lord in another place.

Photo of Sir John Henderson Sir John Henderson , Glasgow Cathcart

I thank you for that correction, Mr. Speaker, and I apologise to the House if I have been completely out of order.

In view of the fact that the Armed Services are deficient of recruits, does the Minister think that he will encourage recruitment for the H.L.I. and the Royal Scots Fusiliers by doing away with the kilt? Is he also aware that the City of Glasgow is the home of the H.L.I. and that his decision is looked upon by that City as nothing short of an insult? Will he further say whether it is the fact that there is not a single Scotsman on the Army Council? Would he be good enough to give the name of this evil genius the result of whose work is to do something to the H.L.I. which no foreign Power in combat has been able to do in the past?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

One of the main reasons why I am so anxious that amalgamation shall, if possible, take place is that the traditional connection of the H.L.I. with that great city shall be continued in the new amalgamated regiment. Disbandment would banish altogether that ancient tradition which both the City of Glasgow and the Army appreciate. I assure my hon. Friend that it is not only Englishmen whose feelings are being hurt in this matter. I have tried to make it clear in my Answer that the other Scottish regiments feel just as strongly that it would be quite inappropriate to have a kilted regiment in the Lowland Brigade.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

With due respect to a section of Scottish opinion with which I am familiar, is it not a shocking state of affairs that in this atomic age we should allow some vested interests to stand in the way of the necessary amalgamation of two very important and highly respected regiments simply because there is a difference of opinion as to whether they should wear trousers or kilts? Surely this sort of thing ought not even to be considered for a single moment at this time.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

The right hon. Gentleman knows my feelings about this. I think the whole matter has been taken out of proportion, and it is my wish—I hope the House will support me—that we should look at it in its proper perspective.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr

Although you may not think there is anything more to be said on this question, Mr. Speaker, I am afraid that the Answer given by the Minister was so unsatisfactory that I must give notice to raise the subject on the Adjournment.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will seek the comments of the new committee on recruitment for the Army on his proposals for the dress of the new regiment formed from the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

No, Sir. I have described in answer to an earlier Question the circumstances in which my decision was taken.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

In view of what has been said earlier this afternoon by the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. J. Henderson), is the right hon. Gentleman certain that this will not have an effect on recruiting?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

There may be some temporary effect on recruiting, but I do not think it will be lasting if we can secure agreement on amalgamation.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

asked the Secretary of State for War by what authority he called for the resignation of the colonels-in-chief of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

I asked these two officers to submit their resignations as I am responsible for advising Her Majesty in regard to appointments, promotions and other matters affecting the service of officers of the Army.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Did it not appear from earlier statements by the Secretary of State that these colonels-in-chief submitted their resignations without being asked to do so? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm now that they were asked to resign? Can he say whether there is any precedent for such a request?

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

I do not know about the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. As to whether there is a precedent, all I would say is that I do not think that because there might be a lack of precedent it should prevent me, in my position, carrying out what I consider to be my duty.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a precedent? When I was Secretary of State for War I called upon a major-general, a very useful general, to resign, and he did so.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge

The question was whether there was any precedent for a colonel of a regiment being asked for his resignation, and it was that point that I answered.