The average interval between unaccompanied tours for the infantry in 1990–91 was 18 months. That figure rose to 32 months in 1991–92 as, among other measures, Royal Marine commandos were included, and has fallen to 17 months in 1992–93 due to the unavailability of those units undergoing amalgamation, changing roles or relocating. It is still expected, however, that the target of 24 months between unaccompanied tours will be achieved once restructuring is complete.
I appreciate that it is hoped that it will be possible to get back to 24 months at some point in the future, but when does the Minister think that that target will be achieved? Is it not likely that in the short term—over the next few years—the figure will still be low and may even drop further? Does the Minister appreciate the impact that that will have on the families of service men? If the pressure on the men and their families is sustained, we may have a vicious circle in which more men leave the service.
Yes. The period of amalgamation will be over the next two years. That has led to the present dislocation and to the emergency tour interval shrinking to the degree that it has recently. So long as there are no new long-term commitments in the next two years, we estimate that we shall be able to return to 24 months. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about the effect of the amalgamation on families, and we are mindful of that.
A number of reports in The Scotsman and other newspapers have said that there may be a reprieve possibly for some Scottish regiments. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me and my constituents that any review of Scottish regiments will go hand in glove with the review of the Staffordshire and Cheshire regiments?
I do not think that we are talking about a review of the proposals for the amalgamation of regiments under "Options for Change". We still feel that we have the right number of regiments. We do not think that long-term commitments have changed sufficiently to want to change that.