The Army

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:09 pm on 1st July 1991.

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Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester 9:09 pm, 1st July 1991

Today I brought my top hat into the Chamber, for three reasons. The first is that we are witnessing the funeral of the British infantry —and here I disagree with some hon. Members who have spoken on that issue. Secondly, this is largely being done by a massive conjuring trick. Of course, one could produce a live rabbit from a top hat, but not from one that has been squashed flat and has become so small that it does not have credibility. My third reason is the great injustice that has been done to the three mutilated Grenadiers and many other service men who have not been properly compensated. I propose to wear my top hat in the Chamber until there is justice for those soldiers.

The speech by my right hon. Friend the Minister was disappointing—I would have given it the title "Thanks for the Memory". But my right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State deserve sincere thanks for saving the regimental system, which was under question. They also deserve sincere praise for negotiating with our NATO allies our role in the rapid reaction corps. That was a very major achievement.

My right hon. Friend the Minister also deserves sympathy. I am about to criticise, but in the understanding that any reorganisation and any cuts involve difficulties. It is a darn tough job and this is a highly charged political issue.

First, cuts, like expansion, must be justified and, secondly, they must be sensibly made.

Mr. Gorbachev's peace challenge has changed the very nature of strategic peace itself from nuclear deterrence, under which we lived for 45 years—to a large extent under the nuclear wing of the United States eagle—to a peace of detente.

Although there have been great changes, I question whether there has been any significant lessening of the threat. Under the old threat, we knew its identity, probably the Warsaw pact; we knew its direction, from the east; and we knew the killing zone, in Europe. Now we do not know the identity, direction or potential killing zone. Who on 1 July last year would have expected the Gulf crisis? Today we look at the possibilities of a military backlash in the Soviet Union, of unrest in Europe and of mass immigration from eastern Europe to the EEC.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Gulf, a few of which I shall highlight. First, logistics are the essential oxygen of the modern high-intensity battlefield. Secondly, if one is not high-tech, one is dead. Third, it is difficult, if not impossible initially, to employ reserve forces in the front line teeth arms of a modern battlefield.