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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.