In July, I announced a re-balancing of the Army designed to make it better able to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century. The changes that I announced then reflect the need both to complement our existing heavy and light-weight capabilities with new medium-weight forces, and to ensure that the Army is equipped, trained and organised to meet the demands of multiple, concurrent and above all expeditionary operations across the full spectrum of military tasks. Reductions in heavy armour, heavy artillery and the infantry will be accompanied by an increase in the number of key specialists, without whom the Army cannot deploy on operations. Our objective is therefore to develop a more deployable, agile and flexible force.
Since July, the Army has been engaged, under the leadership of the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, in detailed work on how the changes should be implemented. I will now set out to the House the results of the Army's deliberations. The future Army structure is underpinned by two complementary changes. First, a move towards a more balanced force organised around two armoured brigades, three mechanised brigades, a light and an air assault brigade, in addition, of course, to the Royal Marines Commando Brigade.
We are moving ahead quickly with the changes required to put that in place, and 19 Mechanised Brigade, based in Catterick, will start its conversion to a light brigade in January. The brigade will be ready for deployment on operations if required in the first half of 2006, when it will serve as the contingent NATO response force. Based in Germany, 4th Armoured Brigade will convert to a mechanised brigade in 2006, and the other brigades will adopt their new structures in a similar time frame. The key foundations on which the future Army structure is to be built will be in place by 2008.
However, it is important to emphasise that we cannot use front-line soldiers if they cannot be deployed and sustained on operations because we lack sufficient supporting forces. In parallel, therefore, we are moving ahead with the second element of the re-organisation—making the Army more robust and resilient and able to sustain the enduring expeditionary operations that have become commonplace in recent years. The overriding requirement is to make significant enhancements to the key specialist capabilities—communications, engineers, logisticians, intelligence experts and other key capabilities. At the same time, we want to make fighting units, including the infantry, more robust by ensuring they have adequate numbers.
This is an ambitious programme of change that will take several years to complete. It is more far reaching in its impact on the Army than "Options for Change" in 1991. Virtually every Army unit establishment has been examined, and 10,000 posts will be redistributed. We still have further work to do in establishing all the new arrangements. However, enhancements that we have already decided on include the creation of a new commando engineer regiment, a new port and maritime unit, an additional strategic communications unit and a new logistics support regiment for each deployable brigade. We are also creating a number of new sub-units for surveillance and target acquisition, bomb disposal and vehicle maintenance capabilities.
Those are new capabilities; they are not cuts. They are being backed up by an impressive re-equipment programme, introducing new communications equipment such as Bowman and Falcon, enhanced intelligence collection assets such as the Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle and Soothsayer electronic warfare capability, modern vehicles such as the Panther armoured reconnaissance vehicle, and looking further ahead, the ambitious FRES armoured fighting vehicle programme, which will modernise the armoured vehicle fleet and form the basis of the medium-weight capability.
These enhancements will directly improve the ability of the Army to deploy, support and sustain itself on the range of operations that we envisage. That can only be achieved as the result of the planned reduction by four in the number of infantry battalions, which will release around 2,400 posts for redeployment across the force structure.
I now turn to the changes to the infantry. I know that this is an emotive subject. I entirely understand its importance to morale, esprit de corps and operational effectiveness of regimental traditions. However, we need to consider these changes to the infantry in the wider context of rebalancing the Army and the opportunity that affords to re-allocate manpower to those areas that current and future operations require us to develop. Very few of our regiments and corps exist today in the same form in which they existed in the past. There has been a recurrent process of change and regeneration over the past 150 years. In the last decade, for example, under the previous Government, "Options for Change" represented the first attempt to reshape our armed forces to reflect the post-cold war era. Each change, designed to make the Army more relevant to the prevailing strategic context, was passionately opposed at the time, but on each occasion new organisations were created, fostering military renown while developing their own traditions and reputations to engender loyalty and camaraderie. That remains our guiding principle.
We are able to reduce the size of the infantry because of the reduction in the requirement for permanently committed forces to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland that flows from the encouraging progress towards a lasting settlement in the Province; and the decision by the Army Board that the infantry arms plot—the mechanism by which units routinely move location and change role every few years—no longer represents the best way to deliver operational capability. In future, battalions will be fixed by role and largely by location. That requires that we find a new means of providing variety of experience and posting for individuals to sustain the operational flexibility for which our infantry units are rightly famed. In future, this will be provided through individual posting. The only means of doing that within the framework of the regimental structure is by having regiments of more than one battalion.
Let me emphasise that this is not a revolutionary concept. The Army Board took a decision as long ago as 1962 to establish large regiments. Nearly half the infantry is already organised in this way and operates extremely effectively. Multi-battalion regiments will allow individuals to move between battalions while at the same time maintaining the sense of regimental identity that is so critical to the Army's ethos and fighting effectiveness.
Those who argue against ending the arms plot need to explain why. Ending it will ensure that we get far more military capability out of the resources that we have. Of the 40 battalions in the current order of battle, as many as 11 are likely during any 12-month period to move location or to re-role. At any one time, as many as seven may be unavailable for operations. That is simply not efficient. The logic is undeniable: at the end of this process, many more, if not all, of the future 36 infantry battalions will actually be available for operations.
Phasing out the arms plot will mean that the infantry is able to offer much greater stability for soldiers and their families. It will allow career development for soldiers and officers to be much more carefully planned, while keeping the variety, opportunity and challenge of new roles and locations open to all soldiers within large regiments; and it will give greater brigade cohesion by maintaining units within formations.
There has been a wide-ranging and detailed consultation exercise, with the infantry being invited to express their views on how the restructuring should be implemented. I am also grateful to the many hon. Members who have played their part in representing the interests of their local regiments.
The Army has concluded that the only prudent basis on which to make decisions is one that has regard to the long-term sustainability and effectiveness of the battalions concerned, based on an analysis of historic manning statistics, regional demographics and future manning predictions. But it has, rightly, tempered that with a recognition of the need to take account of regional and geographic representation. That is why, for example, we are looking to Scotland for only one reduction, and why the Royal Irish Regiment has been exempted from consideration.
The Army also considered the Gurkha battalions but concluded that, given the requirement to sustain the Brunei garrison and their excellent manning record, they should not face any reduction. It also took account of the ceremonial duties required of the five battalions of the Foot Guards, and concluded that those justified the status quo in relation to both the number and organisation of these battalions. In considering the Foot Guards, the Army took the view that any change to titles or structure would ultimately affect their ability to sustain the ceremonial roles that are so important to the fabric of our national life. Their existing structure already provides the geographical stability that we are looking to achieve elsewhere.
Against that background, I have decided, as recommended by the Army, that the first three battalions should be reduced by taking one battalion from the Scottish Division. The Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers will merge. That and the other four battalions—including the Black Watch—will become part of a new large regiment, to be called the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The identities of the antecedent regiments will be preserved in a variety of ways, not least by including them prominently in the battalion titles of the new regiment. So, for example, 1st Battalion the Royal Highland Fusiliers will become the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland).
One battalion will be taken from the area west of the Pennines. The King's Own Royal Border Regiment, the King's Regiment and the Queen's Lancashire Regiment will amalgamate to form two new battalions within the new King's, Lancashire and Border Regiment.
One battalion will be taken from the Prince of Wales's Division, in the south of England. That will be achieved by merging the antecedent components of the Royal Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment with, in the case of the Glosters, the Devonshire and Dorsetshire Regiment, which will then merge with the Light Infantry, and, in the case of the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment, with the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.
In considering how the fourth reduction should be made, I have taken into account the need for additional specialist enabling support, which will underpin our future expeditionary capability.
Our special forces are critical to our prosecution of the war against terror. We were able to announce some improvements to our special forces in July. We are also considering the broader arrangements whereby the armed forces provide support to special forces operations. One option that has emerged in that continuing work is the creation of a tri-service "ranger" unit, which would be dedicated to special forces support. I have decided that it would be appropriate to develop such a unit over the next few years, and it would take its place alongside the other enhancements to specialist support elements of the Army. The fourth infantry battalion reduction will therefore be found by removing the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment from the infantry structure and using its highly trained manpower as the core of a new, tri-service ranger unit.
The changes that I have announced today mean that the infantry will now, with the exception—for the reasons that I have outlined—of the Foot Guards and the Royal Irish Regiment, be organised into large regiments. The seven existing multi-battalion regiments will continue.
In addition to the changes that I have already announced, the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Royal Regiment of Wales will combine as the Royal Welsh. They will be known respectively as 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh (the Royal Welch Fusiliers) and 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh (the Royal Regiment of Wales).
The Staffordshire Regiment, the Cheshire Regiment and the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters will combine as the Mercian Regiment and be known as 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment (Cheshires), 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) and 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment (Staffords).
The Duke of Wellington's Regiment, the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment and the Green Howards will come together to form the Yorkshire Regiment and be known as 1st battalion the Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) and 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington's).
The move to larger, multi-battalion regiments is the only sustainable way in which to structure the infantry for the long term. In implementing the new system, the Army will ensure that the regimental traditions, heritage, cultures and local connections will live on in the new arrangements. Golden threads of identity will be preserved in any new uniform, for example, by the retention of accoutrements—[Interruption.] There are hon. Members who would like to hear this. Those accoutrements include the Black Watch hackle.The new battalions will continue to recruit in the areas of their original constituent elements. Regional recruiting will remain the bedrock of the British infantry.
There will be no diminution in the role of the Territorial Army and the reserves. The TA will, in future, be more closely integrated with the regular Army for both training and operations. Each of the 14 TA infantry battalions will be part of a regular parent regiment, one per regular regiment with the exception of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, which will have two, and the Guards Division, which will have one affiliated TA battalion.
The TA is also to be rebalanced to support large-scale operations and home defence, as well as remaining capable of reinforcing regular units deploying on enduring operations. It will remain broadly the same size as today but with a structure that is more capable and relevant to future operations. Complementing the changes to the regulars, those changes will provide more TA manpower for specialist areas including intelligence, engineers, Military Provost Service and attack helicopter support teams. TA establishments will be organised to accommodate personnel who may not be able to deploy in support of large-scale operations. They will also be sufficiently robust to take account of personnel undergoing individual training. The final arrangements will be the subject of further announcements in due course.
As part of our work on the future Army structure we have also examined the requirement for Army musicians. On the basis of recommendations made by the Army, it has been decided that there should be a reduction from two to one in the number of bands per division of line infantry, and the number of Royal Armoured Corps bands should be reduced from four to two. We will also reduce the band of the Light Division by 14 posts, to bring it into line with the rest of the line infantry.
We will try to ensure that individuals affected by these changes are provided with the chance to retrain and re-role to take on new tasks. But the changes in the infantry and bandsmen that have been announced today will require a limited redundancy programme. The scheme will be carefully targeted on the small number of infantry personnel and Army musicians who, for whatever reason, are unsuited to be retrained and employed elsewhere in the Army. It will be designed to ensure that we maintain a balanced rank and age structure, and are able to continue recruiting. Not to do so could impact on military effectiveness by creating promotion blockages. We anticipate that about 400 personnel will be affected. Details of terms and conditions will be set out in the new year.
However—let me be clear about this—a redundancy programme does not mean that career opportunities in the Army will be reduced. The Army will continue at around its current size. At around 102,000 strong, it will continue to require more than 11,000 new recruits every year, and offer a wide range of high-quality employment and training opportunities.
I have never failed to be impressed by the Army's professionalism, courage, and determination to succeed. It is a body of men and women of whom the nation is justifiably very proud, and I know that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to them. I am convinced—and so is the Army—that the transformation that we have set in hand is the right course for the future. The new structure will deliver an Army fit for the challenge of the 21st century. It will preserve the vital traditions and ethos, and it will improve the lives of soldiers and their families. I commend it to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State formally for giving me advance sight of that dismal statement. This is a dark day for our armed forces. It is an even darker day for the proud regiments that the Government seek to scrap. They have given outstanding service to our country, and we owe them much. In tribute to them, I am making a list of their names and achievements available in the Library.
This is also a day of shame for this discredited and ineffective Defence Secretary—discredited, because he seeks to hide his direct responsibility for today's decisions behind the coat tails of the generals; and ineffective, because he has abdicated his historic ability to defend our armed forces against the ravages of the Treasury.
Behind the spin, the reality is stark: 19 great regiments gone, infantry battalions cut from 40 to 36, the Army trained establishment cut from its current target of 108,500 to a target of 102,000 by 2008. Today's announcements are dangerous for our country. In the words of the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie, in The Sunday Telegraph last Sunday, the Army
"has become dangerously small for what it is being asked to do".
Today's statement will make it even smaller.
The Secretary of State says that this is all about reorganisation. None of us is against necessary reorganisation, but this statement was driven not by a need to reorganise but by the Chancellor's demand for financial cuts. I welcome the decision to create a new tri-service ranger unit dedicated to special forces support, but can the Secretary of State confirm that as a result of the changes that he has announced to the Parachute Regiment's structure, there will not now need to be a reduction of a fourth battalion from the infantry of the line?
The Opposition agree that there is a need for our armed forces to be more usable. We accept that the arms plot is disruptive to families and to the operational needs of the Army. What we do not accept is the Secretary of State's attempt to use that to justify cuts in infantry manpower, or his attempt to paint those cuts as Army driven when, as we know, they are politically driven, and designed to help fill the Chancellor's gaping black hole.
Today, we face considerable threats from terrorism at home and abroad. We have a grossly overstretched Army undertaking major military deployments over- seas. Since the strategic defence review, our armed forces have effectively been conducting continual, concurrent operations, deploying further afield to more places, more frequently, and with a greater variety of missions than was ever assumed. We still have our obligations in Northern Ireland, the Balkans and Cyprus, and the Government's White Paper anticipates that, around the world, those obligations will increase.
Even as we speak, our soldiers are fighting in Iraq, where we expect to remain until 2008 at least. I am sure that the whole House welcomes the Black Watch back with pride. We are under pressure to increase our commitment to Afghanistan. To meet some of these burdens, since 1999, approximately 30 per cent. of the Territorial Army has been mobilised to support the regular Army operations overseas.
Today's decision therefore flies in the face of reality. There is a serious military case for more infantry, not less. As Chief of the General Staff General Sir Mike Jackson told The Sun on
"I would much prefer increasing the size of the Army but that's simply not on offer. I can either accept what's on offer—a reduced size of the Army—or go."
We would not have made these cuts—and, after the election, we will not carry them through. We would not see these regiments go or these battalions reduced. We believe profoundly that these reductions are wrong.
Let me make our position clear: we will increase front-line spending by £2.7 billion, because that is what our national security requires.
Therefore, let me ask the Secretary of State some questions. What has happened since 1998 to convince him not only to reverse the SDR plans but to introduce further cuts? Have not the threats increased since then? Are not our armed forces today experiencing a greater and more frequent range of operational demands than they did in the 1990s? Has the average interval of 24 months between tours for the infantry been achieved? On Tuesday, we learned that another 900 armed forces reservists were to be drafted to serve in Iraq. Is not one of the main reasons for that that there are not enough regular troops to deploy? After today's statement, there will be even fewer.
The truth is that this statement is not about the welfare of our armed forces. It is not about the security of our country. We were promised new thinking. What we have today are tired old ideas heated up. In the end, it is all about saving money, and I predict that this will not be the end of it. These swingeing cuts to the Army must be seen alongside equally dangerous reductions in the number of surface warships and compulsory redundancies in the RAF.
Our armed forces deserve better than to be betrayed in this appalling manner by their Government. This statement is bad for the country. It is quite simply wrong.
First, may I extend the very good wishes of the Government and Labour Members to Mr. Soames? We wish him a speedy recovery. I extend that on behalf of his many friends in the Ministry of Defence, among whom I count myself. There was some concern, however, at the strength of any new hip with which he would be provided. The research department of the Ministry of Defence is perfectly willing to provide some new materials to ensure that the replacement is fit for its purpose.
I am sorry that Mr. Ancram has approached this debate as he has chosen to do. Clearly, he had a choice: he could have seriously considered these issues, carefully considered the military advice that has been available to him and to Conservative Front-Bench Members, and approached the matter in a proper way. Instead, he has chosen to make party political points, which he is entitled to do, and has produced an entirely incoherent response to a set of carefully thought-out proposals based on the best military advice—[Interruption.]
Order. Many hon. Members want to be called to ask a supplementary question, and this is a serious matter for many communities and their regiments. I do not want the Secretary of State to be barracked. He has been asked to answer questions, and he will do so. The House should remember that I can stop a statement at any time. I therefore remind those Members who are heckling of my position: I will not allow the Secretary of State to be barracked in any way.
The incoherence of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position is demonstrated by the fact that he claims to support the need to reorganise the Army, and appears to recognise, in saying so, that we need more support forces for front-line forces, but he insists at the same time, for party political reasons, that it is necessary, somehow or other, to maintain the same number in the infantry. Anyone who examines these issues—I appreciate that he does not do so on a regular basis—knows full well that if we are to deploy large numbers of infantry battalions in the way that we do at present, they must be properly supported. One simply cannot put down infantry battalions in Afghanistan unless they have an appropriate chain of communications to support them there.
Therefore, this is not about cuts, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman and Opposition Members need to understand that. It is about ensuring that the 3,000 posts saved by the improved situation in Northern Ireland are used to support front-line forces. Unless he grasps that, unfortunately, he will do his party and the House a considerable disservice.
Even more importantly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about a grossly overstretched Army. He should look carefully at the figures. Which part of the Army is overstretched? I emphasise that it is not the infantry—if he listened to General Jackson on the radio this morning, he will have heard him make the same point. The tour interval for the infantry, on average, approaches 22 months. Inevitably, that disguises the fact that parts of the infantry are facing shorter tour intervals. The real question to which he must face up, and which the Opposition must start considering seriously, is that of tour intervals for the support elements. Those people are facing shorter tour intervals than the infantry battalions, and it would therefore be grossly irresponsible for any Government, or putative Government, to pretend that, to address overstretch, they will protect those parts that are less stretched than others. It is a simple, straightforward and undeniable point. If we are to ensure that we have deployable armed forces, they must be supported on those deployments.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a great deal of the issue of numbers. We will preserve around the same number of people in our modern Army as at present—around 102,000. He needs to examine carefully, and the Conservative Front-Bench team need to think through a little more carefully than they have done so far, how many people were in the Army in 1997. There were far fewer than there are today. For his criticisms of Army numbers to have any validity, he should have addressed that issue when he was in government. He failed utterly to protect the Army when he was a Cabinet Minister, as there were a whole series of amalgamations and changes. It is simple hypocrisy to come to the House and pretend otherwise.
Today's announcement has been much trailed and much speculated about, and we would expect some winners and losers. As the Secretary of State rightly said, there have always been changes to the armed forces, not least under the previous Conservative Government. We welcome some of today's announcements. We welcome the move to make the Army more mobile and rapidly deployable, but we have strong concerns about the cuts in infantry numbers, which could leave Britain with its smallest Army since the first Afghan war of 1839.
We accept that the threat to UK security from terrorists and failed states is real. We must adapt our armed forces better to deal with those new threats. The old threats remain, however, and the old demands remain: peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention, and support to the civil powers during floods and foot and mouth. We accept that the logistics are overstretched, but how will that be countered by scrapping infantry regiments?
Can the Secretary of State assure the House of Commons that no member of the armed forces will face compulsory redundancy as a result of the changes that he is announcing today? We welcome the addition to our special forces, for which we called two years ago in our paper, but where will the rangers unit be based? We are pleased that there will be no changes to the Territorial Army and the Gurkhas: that is absolutely right.
The Black Watch is being retained in name only. Why could we not keep all the regimental names? We welcome the end of the arms plot, but it could and should have been done without the loss of numbers of battalions. Does that really send the right recruitment and retention message? Does it really encourage members of the public to join and stay in the armed forces?
All the changes presume the continuation of peace in Northern Ireland, and no more overseas deployments. We sincerely hope that that is the case, but while it is possible to axe soldiers in one sentence in the House of Commons, it will take years to bring them back. Is the Secretary of State really confident that he will never have to do that?
I have always recognised that there is a balance between the network-centric, high-tech forces that the Secretary of State wants to be able to work with the United States, and the more traditional capabilities—the boots on the ground—that we need today in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan. We believe, however, that the balance is moving much too far away from the backbone of our armed forces—the men and women who work and fight with extraordinary courage and skill. There is a price to be paid for high-tech equipment. Today, four battalions of the Army have paid that price, and we believe it is a price not worth paying.
The Army today is much larger than it was in 1997, and, even if we allow for these changes, it will still be larger than it was in 1997.
I have made it clear that, in the light of the improved situation in Northern Ireland, we can reduce the number of battalions by four. Those posts—around 2,400—along with a further 600 not in infantry battalions will be reused across the Army, partly to strengthen existing infantry battalions where there are shortfalls but mainly to ensure that we have key enablers. Anyone who looks carefully at the way in which the modern British Army is deployed in the world must recognise that key enablers are vital. This is where the Conservatives have missed the point: we can have any number of infantry battalions, but if they cannot be supported in operations in hostile environments such as Afghanistan, there is no purpose in having them. They are there in name only, and cannot be used.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned arrangements for the end of the arms plot. I assure him that our intention is precisely to aid retention. The biggest threat to retention, particularly among trained, experienced members of the modern Army, arises when they have to move home every two years. It is absurd that that practice should continue in the 21st century. Our proposals are entirely retention-positive: they will help us to retain in particular the best skills and the most able people, those who have had the most training in the modern Army. They are about ensuring that we have the right people with the right skills for the future.
I hope my right hon. Friend will accept that I am as relieved now as I was in 1991, when my local regiment survived "Options for Change" while many others were amalgamated into oblivion. I hope that he looks forward as enthusiastically as I do to his appearance before the Defence Committee, along with the Chief of the General Staff, shortly after our return from the recess. Will he explain—now or then—why the regiments that appear to have survived, and retain a name, a museum and a cap badge, can look forward to the preservation of their historical traditions and high competence? Does he accept that there is no incompatibility between a regiment's survival in reality and its operation in a more coherent regional framework?
I look forward to early January.
I too look forward to that opportunity. I am sure it will be possible for me to describe the new arrangements in even more detail than I have today.
I should emphasise that in producing large regiments, a consistent ambition of the Army over many years, we have been guided both by military advice—the strong, firm, clear recommendations of the Army—and by a detailed consultation exercise, which has generated different responses in different parts of the country. Different areas have adopted different approaches. Indeed, the approach in Scotland is different from the approach in my right hon. Friend's part of the country—a part of the country that I share. Our actions, however, have been guided and steered by the Army itself.
Everyone must accept that issues relating to the arms plot need to be constantly revisited, but nothing can disguise the Secretary of State's prevarication over his plans to cut the target size of the Army. Why did the Government come to the House after their election in 1997 with the strategic defence review, proposing to increase the size of the Army to 108,500? It now emerges that they never achieved that and never intended to achieve it, because the money was never made available.
As long as the Government continue to fit the armed forces into a Treasury envelope of the Treasury's choosing rather than matching the resources necessary to meet the demands made of the armed forces, they are taking risks with the security of the country and, indeed, with the lives of our armed forces.
The truth is precisely the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman suggests. Let us assume that we had increased the size of the Army to 108,000. Had that been possible, it would have been based largely on extra infantry battalions. We would have faced exactly the same problem as the one that I have addressed today—the problem of how to support extra infantry battalions when they are actually deployed.
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises, even since the strategic defence review we have seen a dramatic change in the strategic landscape. We used to organise our armed forces to face a single threat from the Soviet Union with a single line of logistics to support a large number of deployed infantry battalions. We now face multiple threats around the world, including those with which our armed forces must currently deal in Afghanistan. It simply does not make sense to organise the Army along that single line of communications. We need multiple, deployable battalions. I agree that infantry battalions are vital, but they must be supported, and they must be supported from within our existing resources.
The number of people in the Army will still be greater than it was when the hon. Gentleman arrived in the House in 1997—greater than it was under the last Conservative Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in a few years people will look back and wonder why infantry arms plotting survived for so long? The changes that he has announced will result in more deployability, and a more rapid response to overseas developments. Does he also agree that when our troops are in action overseas, it is vital for our soldiers not to have their tours extended beyond the standard six months, and, when they do come home, to have adequate time for training and recuperation?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He makes a point that, by implication, might embarrass Conservative Members: precisely the same proposals were made by the Army in 1962, in the 1980s and again in the early 1990s. The truth is that Conservative Governments did not have the courage or conviction to see them through. They were incapable of reorganising the Army along the lines that it advocated itself. That demonstrates just how feeble their approach is today. They are trying to pretend that they have never supported our approach, whereas in fact they simply could not see it through.
In the heartland of the British Army around Salisbury plain, of all places, the Secretary of State has just buried 300 years of regimental history. If he is re-elected to his constituency after the next general election, which may be unlikely, and if I too am re-elected—which is more likely, following today's statement—will he come to Salisbury at noon on the day after the election to see me sing the marching song of the Wiltshire regiment to celebrate the re-election of a Conservative Member?
I doubt whether I will be celebrating any such thing, but I am certainly perfectly willing to join the hon. Gentleman and to discuss these changes, which have been approved and agreed by the Army itself.
On behalf of my constituents in Calder Valley and those in Halifax—especially those currently serving in the Duke of Wellington Regiment in Iraq—may I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to form a Yorkshire regiment from the three current regiments? Although the Dukes are currently in Basra, they are very aware of the battle raging at home over their future and that of other regiments, which has made matters extremely difficult for them as they serve in an area of conflict. My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that it is important that the Army be structured and equipped in such a way that it is flexible and can deploy rapidly, but I am very pleased that he has found a way of enabling that to happen without throwing out the baby with the bath water, allowing the Duke of Wellington Regiment's links and traditions to remain.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What is important is that we preserve, as I have made clear today, the strong regional identities that are so important to the modern British Army. A Yorkshire regiment will continue that very strong tradition.
The Secretary of State's statement will have been greeted with utter dismay by the soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment and the entire population of Cheshire, who take deep pride in their county's close attachment to the regiment. Does he realise that there is much doubt about whether it is possible to generate the same loyalty and connection through simply a cap badge? In the past, recruitment to the Cheshire Regiment has always been successful because the soldiers knew that they belonged to their county, and they had a loyalty based on identification and support. I hope that the Secretary of State will now admit that today's statement was a gross error of judgment and understanding.
Instead of dealing in rhetoric, the hon. Gentleman should deal in the facts, which are that the Cheshires will still recruit from an identifiable area, they will still have an identifiable name and they will be part of a multi-battalion regiment. That practice is wholly consistent with the rest of the Army, and it has already been adopted by about half the infantry battalions. Indeed, the Army has persistently and consistently recommended for a very long time that it be organised in accordance with that practice. I can assure the House that the views that the Army has taken into account are those of serving soldiers, rather than those of retired soldiers or people such as the hon. Gentleman, who was perhaps speaking for the benefit of his local newspaper.
As my right hon. Friend will recognise, we all have strong attachments to our local regiments. Over the years, many regiments have gone, such as the East Lancashire Regiment, which had a particular connection with Burnley and that part of county. Indeed, when I was doing my national service in the Royal Marines in the 1950s, we expected the Royal Marines to go. Is it not a fact that my right hon. Friend has taken note as far as possible of local traditions and names, while at the same time ensuring that our Army is able to meet present and future requirements? I wish the new King's, Lancashire and Border regiment well in the years ahead.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This detailed process was conducted in the first place by the Army, which took account of its regional organisations and listened carefully to their recommendations. That was particularly true so far as Lancashire was concerned. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Army's views on this issue have been uppermost in my mind in reaching the decisions that I have taken.
The Defence Secretary has announced today the end of the entire Scottish regimental system. As the MP for Perth, where the Black Watch has its regimental headquarters, I am amazed at his gall. The Black Watch has just returned home from the front line in Iraq, where it was sent because it was indispensable to the US army. Why, then, is the Black Watch not indispensable to this Government? Surely this is a massive betrayal of our brave soldiers, whose bravery can be contrasted with the Defence Secretary, who is nothing but a back-stabbing coward.
Order. The hon. Lady would be advised to take my advice without qualification and not compound her error. Will she now obey my instructions? Otherwise, serious consequences will follow.
For the reasons that I have twice given already, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am afraid that I cannot withdraw.
The hon. Member, having used a grossly disorderly expression, was ordered by Mr Deputy Speaker to withdraw the same, but she declined to comply with the direction; whereupon Mr Deputy Speaker, pursuant to
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, unlike those Members who have just left the Chamber. A colleague of mine, the Lord Provost of Dundee, was in Warminster yesterday talking to the soldiers and officers of the Black Watch, and not one of them had any complaints. In fact, they wanted to make it clear that the opinions of people such as those who have just left the Chamber do not represent the views of the serving soldiers in the Black Watch. The fact that my right hon. Friend has managed to retain the best elements of the regimental system, while allowing the soldiers of the Black Watch to balance professionalism with their family responsibilities, bodes well for the future of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I am sure that the 3rd Battalion Black Watch, as part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, will continue to play a major role in all future activities.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I had the privilege not only of meeting members of the Black Watch in Basra last week, but of meeting the Lord Provost of Dundee beforehand. I was grateful to him for his travelling to London to make his views known, and they are clear. He wants to preserve the best elements and the identity of the traditional regiments in Scotland, and he accepted the need for the re-organisation that we propose. We are reorganising to face the challenges of the 21st century, while having regard to the importance of regimental identities. That is the best way to proceed.
Order. Let me assure the House that I do not want the Chair to take up more time than is necessary, given the limited time available, but I do now appeal for very short, concise questions. It will be impossible to call every hon. Member in the time available, but I will do my best—if each hon. Member will do their best for their fellows.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Territorial Army has two roles? The first is to in-fill the regular Army, which makes it attractive to younger people with no responsibilities but less so to older people with family and business responsibilities. The second role is far more important: to provide a framework for expansion of the Army in times of emergency and the unforeseen. Does the Secretary of State recognise that fact, because he said nothing about it in his statement?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the thoughtful way in which he puts his question. This is one of the challenges that the country has had to face since the appalling events of
Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether the Glosters' name will be protected within the new regiment, and does he have a message for the thousands of people in Gloucestershire who have signed petitions calling for the retention of the back badge, which has been with the regiment since the battle of Alexandria in 1801?
I was grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing to London a delegation from Gloucestershire, with whom we discussed the various issues affecting the Glosters. The precise details concerning the name still have to be resolved, but I can assure him that we are considering how the back badge, which forms part of the Glosters' great history and tradition, might be preserved.
In 1991, I was an Adjutant of a regiment that was reorganised just after it returned from the Gulf war. I clearly remember that it marked the start of a period of considerable uncertainty and worry for those affected—for example, about promotion prospects, postings and the impact on families. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the manning and record offices, which implement the changes, have the necessary extra resources to make sure that the decisions are reached speedily, minimising the worry, disruption and upset for all those concerned.
What does the Secretary of State say to the tens of thousands of people across Cumbria who signed petitions in support of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment? They will be very saddened indeed at his decision today. Will he explain an anomaly in his statement? Why did he say, in respect of the reductions for the first three battalions, that he "decided" as recommended by the Army, but, in respect of the special forces unit, merely that an option "emerged" rather than being decided? Was that also recommended by the Army?
It was recommended by the Army and I apologise if I did not make that clear in my statement. The Lancashire regiments took the view that the best way of reorganising arrangements was to have two merged battalions within a title that recognises the continuing history and tradition of the Border Regiment.
There are certainly not too many foreign and Commonwealth citizens in our armed forces. They play a valuable role and I believe that it would be a sad day if they were turned away. It is wrong to set one part of our Army against another and I have already explained the reasons for not dealing with the Royal Irish at this stage, not least because of the very considerable changes that are under way in Northern Ireland.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the population of the 10 counties from which the Royal Anglian Regiment is recruited is greater than the population of Scotland, of Yorkshire and of Lancashire? Will he explain why those 10 counties continue to be under-represented in the footprint of recruitment to the British Army?
There is necessarily a balance. I explained at the outset that the Army had taken account of the recruiting history, manning and experience of different regiments in different parts of the country. There is no doubt that Scotland recruits a disproportionate number of members of the Army, given the overall size of the UK armed forces. That is a great credit to Scotland, but saying that is not in any way to disrespect the efforts that are made in other parts of the country.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the eleventh-hour proposals to cut one of the battalions of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers have indeed been kicked into touch? Secondly, will he join me in congratulating Brigadier Roy Wilde, the colonel of the regiment, and the Rochdale Fusiliers Association—particularly its secretary, John Rogers—on the sterling work that they did to convince the Army Board to stick to its own criteria?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her vigorous representations on behalf of the units in her constituency and the immediate neighbourhood. She made her case extremely effectively and I am delighted that it was accepted.
Does the Secretary of State accept that although there might be a degree of relief in the Staffordshire Regiment, there will still be concern in the county about how precisely its identity is to be preserved? There is also continuing incredulity that, when General Sir Mike Jackson made it plain that he would like to have had a larger Army on offer, it never was on offer. Why not?
The Chief of the General Staff made his position very clear on the radio this morning. All Departments operate within finite resources. That is the way in which all Government Departments—those of all previous Governments, not just this Government—have had to function. The hon. Gentleman, as a fair-minded man, will recognise the importance of ensuring that we have the right balance of forces in order to support modern operations. It is vital to preserve— the hon. Gentleman will play his part in doing so—the history, tradition and reputation of the great Staffordshire Regiment.
I have said that there are already arrangements in place for supporting our special forces. It is not right for me to go into precise detail about that. I also made it clear in my statement that we will develop the capability over a period of time. It is an important way of enhancing the ability of our special forces, particularly at a time when they are used more than every before.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the word "recruitment" does not appear in his statement? In that context, what objective evidence can he offer that recruitment to the regiment that now replaces the Queen's Lancashire Regiment will not be harmed by the loss of the QLR's proud name and reputation?
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is there and I made specific reference to recruitment because of the Ministry of Defence's experience of dealing with the consequences of "Options for Change". Those processes resulted in a freeze on recruitment over a long time. That was a terrible mistake because it meant that, 10 years after the freeze, we lacked the NCOs and others who should have had 10 years' experience at a critical time for our armed forces. The whole point is to rebalance and maintain the requirement for recruitment. That is why I set it out so clearly in my statement.
Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is important in ending the arms plot that we look at the reasons for doing so. It is partly about having more battalions available for operational duties, but a crucial other aspect is to assist retention by providing our armed forces and their families with a greater degree of predictability and stability in future.
May I correct a misapprehension of several Back Benchers on both sides of the House? The English and Welsh regiments will lose their names, lose their cap badges and, where appropriate, lose their hackles and other regimental appointments: the Scottish regiments will not. With the exception of the King's Own Scottish Borders and the Royal Scots, they are maintaining their names in brackets before the future regimental name. I know that it is all sentiment to the Secretary of State, but to those who have served in these regiments, it is not sentiment, but crucially important. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is dealing unfairly with the English and Welsh regiments.
I do not accept that. The recommendations came from the regional groupings and I know that the hon. Gentleman is wholly familiar with the way in which these matters are decided. I have also made it clear that, as far as possible, the traditional accoutrements can be preserved right across the country, not simply in Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the crucial thing about the structure of our armed forces is regimental identity. That is what will remain so important for the future of these regiments.
Will the Secretary of State explain more clearly how the identity of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment as a whole will be protected in the new merged structure that he has outlined, because it was not that clear from his statement? Will he also confirm that the RGBW is itself the product of a county merger authorised in 1994 under the previous Government?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct on his last point. I set out a rather complicated arrangement for the future of the constituent elements of the RGBW. Essentially, the Glosters will go in one direction and the former regiment that was merged into the RGBW will go in a different direction. I am certainly willing to write to my hon. Friend with more detail about how those arrangements will be achieved.
I sympathise with those loyal service men and women and their families who are most affected by today's announcement of a reorganisation and modernisation of our armed forces. I welcome the fact that the Royal Irish Regiment has been exempted, but will the Secretary of State say for how long that will apply? Will he assure the House that that regiment will not become a political football, subject to the negotiations on Northern Ireland's future?
I will not allow that to happen. That is precisely why I felt it appropriate not to make a decision in relation to the Royal Irish Regiment. As the hon. Gentleman will know—and the representations that I have received from other Northern Ireland Members make it clear that they also recognise this—there are inevitable consequences of normalisation in Northern Ireland, and the military implications are inevitable. I am sure that he will welcome that, on behalf of the people whom he represents.
A paper submitted on a joint basis by hon. Members representing constituencies in Cheshire held that the county identity should be protected within the battalion if there were to be a larger grouping in the Prince of Wales Division. I welcome that aspect of my right hon. Friend's important statement, but he now has an opportunity to address some of the appalling housing issues faced by Army personnel. They are quite different from those that affect the other services. Will he make it his business to ensure that my constituents serving in the Cheshire Battalion of the Mercia Regiment are properly and adequately housed, to the standard that people should expect today?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and for the representations that he has made along with other hon. Members from Cheshire. There is no doubt that, in the course of this process, I have considerably enhanced my knowledge of military history. I agree that it is important to preserve that history, and our military traditions and reputation. However, one of the consequences of ending the arms plot and the resulting greater stability for our Army personnel and their families is that we will have to look still harder at the question of accommodation. We inherited a disastrous situation in 1997 as a result of the previous Government's outrageous decision to sell off military housing to Annington Homes. That was a short-term quick fix. Mr. Ancram was in the Cabinet at the time, and he knows that that decision was dictated by the Treasury and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a disgraceful decision and it has taken us a great deal of time to recover from it.
As a representative from the proud county of Cheshire, I deeply regret the Secretary of State's announcement about the Cheshire Regiment. Will the regiment be allowed to keep its cap badge? Does he understand that some Conservative Members who, unlike him, have served in the Army believe that he has misrepresented the statistics relating to the Army establishment? In 1997, the number of TA and full-time Army regulars was greater than it is today.
I am terribly sorry, but I am not going to allow the hon. Gentleman to get away with that. Were he talking about Alistair Campbell's activities in the same terms, he would describe it as spinning. There is a clear figure for the size of the regular Army, and I quoted regular Army statistics to the House. I did so absolutely accurately. I am afraid that I do not recall the hon. Gentleman making the same complaints in 1997 about the disgraceful size of the Army under the previous Government.
If the hon. Gentleman did make such vigorous complaints at that time, I certainly apologise to him now. As I made clear in response to the question from Patrick Mercer, what is important about our armed forces' regimental structure is that there is a regimental identity. That is the answer to the question: the regiments to which the hon. Gentleman refers will have a regimental identity.
I assure my right hon. Friend that I have no intention of carrying out a pathetic stunt such as the one perpetrated by members of the Scottish Nationalist party in relation to his plans for Scottish regiments. Those hon. Members seem to want to disband the whole British Army. In respect of the merger of the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers, there is a worry in Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire that the names might be lost. Will he confirm that both names will be retained?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point. I confirm that the merged battalion name will include both titles, the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers. I want to take this opportunity of responding to the observations made by the Scottish Nationalists. Members of that party do not believe in membership of NATO, nor in European defence. They have opposed every deployment of British troops in recent years. I wonder what the point of having an army in the UK would be if that party ever got into any kind of power anywhere.
The people of Wiltshire will regret very much the obliteration of 300 years of history with the Wiltshire Regiment, which served with such distinction in the second world war. Will the right hon. Gentleman not rise above his Islingtonian mediocrity and acknowledge the excellence of institutions like the Wiltshire Regiment? He talks about regimental identity. Wiltshire is the home of the British Army: surely that is worth acknowledging?
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have sought to approach this matter in a balanced way, using the best military advice. It is important that we look at these proposals in the way that the Army recommends. We have used the best military advice available to us. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman believes that he is better at providing military advice than the Chief of the General Staff, but this is what the Army has proposed.
I completely accept that we must achieve a sensible combination when it comes to keeping up with American technology and retaining the number of troops that we can afford. However, we are unlikely to tackle the threat that faces us without the Americans. Does my right hon. Friend accept that the priority should be boots on the ground, rather than more and more technology?
That point is often made, but it is very important that we resist it. There is no trade-off between boots on the ground and technology. Modern technology will assist in war fighting as much as in peace keeping. A lot of modern technology that I described in my statement today is about providing information, communications and a technological approach to both war fighting and peace keeping. We must make sure that deployed forces have up-to-date and accurate information, which they can share. That is crucial to peace keeping. Given today's situation in places such as Iraq, it could be argued that it is more important to peace keeping even than to war fighting.
For centuries, the Royal Marines have been an integral part of the Royal Navy. That arrangement has served the country outstandingly well. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have no plans to change that structure? Will he confirm too that badged swimmer canoeists will remain full members of the naval service, even though their operational tasks will continue to be dictated by another organisation?
I shall not pursue the hon. Gentleman's final observation too far, for reasons of which he is aware. However, I assure him that there are no plans to change the structure of our armed forces as far as the Royal Marines are concerned.
No one can condone the actions of Scottish Nationalist Members today, but does my right hon. Friend accept that sadness and anger will be felt throughout Scotland as a result of his decision? What consideration was given to the proposals from the civic heads of Dundee, Perth, Angus and Fyfe and the Black Watch Association for an alternative structure for the Scottish Brigade? Will he meet them again to explain what safeguards he will put in place to ensure that the identity of the Black Watch is safeguarded and fostered in the Royal Regiment of Scotland?
As I have said already, I had a very good meeting with the gentlemen representing part of the Black Watch recruiting area. They were at pains to make it clear that they recognise the necessity of reorganisation and to emphasise the importance of identity. As I said earlier, that is what has guided our proposals. We must reorganise our armed forces to reflect the challenges that we face in the 21st century, and combine that with real sensitivity about identity. I believe that we have achieved that in Scotland and in the rest of the country.
May I express my personal sadness, which is felt by many in the west country, that the Secretary of State attempted to airbrush the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment out of history? If retention and recruitment are to remain so important in Army life, why is the policy now that people who want to leave the armed forces are actively encouraged to go as quickly as possible?
I have not airbrushed any regiments out of history. What I have sought to do is to find a way in which their structure can reflect the kinds of challenge that we face in the 21st century at the same time as recognising their identity. I accept that the hon. Lady has vigorously put forward the case of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment. It will be important, as has happened in previous amalgamations, that its history is carried through into succeeding regimental organisations.
From discussions with my local regiment in Lancashire, the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, I am given to understand that agreement was reached between the three regiments to the west of the Pennines that if a merger were to take place the appropriate name would be the Royal Lancashire Regiment. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that name was recommended to him by the Army Board? If the name was different from that recommended by the regiments, why was it? If he overturned the recommendation of the Army Board, will he explain why he did that?
My hon. Friend is right that in each part of the country a number of options have been discussed and various proposals put forward. I confirm that I have heard the suggestion that the regiment could be called the Royal Lancashire Regiment, but I assure him that the recommendation I have set out to the House is the recommendation that I received from the Army Board.
There will be considerable relief in Yorkshire and the north-east at the retention of the name of the Green Howards. Will the Secretary of State consider carefully, however, what my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer said about how his statement appears to suggest that English regiments are being treated differently from those in Scotland? We need to retain our cap badges. On the ending of the arms plot, will the new Yorkshire regiment be based in Yorkshire?
Let me take the hon. Gentleman's last point first. He has studied carefully the stabilisation of the Army with the gradual ending of the arms plot, and he knows full well that it cannot happen overnight. Remnants of the arms plot must continue, but it will slow down until it reaches a logical conclusion. At that point, consistent with the answers that I have given to other hon. Members, we will consider the stability of the future regiments. It certainly seems appropriate, where we can, to base the new regiments in those areas from which they draw their members. Equally, however, there are some concerns about that idea in the serving Army. Too close a location to home can sometimes produce wholly different problems, which we are seeking to avoid. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, the matters he raised are consequential on these announcements.
My right hon. Friend had some helpful things to say about the Glosters and their back badge. He will know that that badge was earned by soldiers fighting back to back, not quite knowing where the attack was coming from. With that in mind, does he accept that there is confusion in the west country about exactly what his proposals mean? Will he meet local MPs to explain the repercussions and to tell us there will not be death by reorganisation? Can he give some idea of the timetable of the changes? We know what we have been through in the past, and change is upsetting, taking a lot of effort to get it right.
I have already met at least one hon. Member from Gloucestershire and am certainly willing to meet more. I accept that the proposal relating to the RGBW is complex. I certainly undertake, as I already have undertaken, to look carefully at proposals for the retention of the back badge. I recognise how important that is to the identity of the Glosters.
The Secretary of State knows full well that the Army comprises both the regulars and the territorials. He also knows full well that, given the large-scale cuts in the TA under the Labour Government's strategic defence review, the overall size of the Army is now considerably smaller than it was in 1997. The cap badges of the regular units are going to go, and we have this afternoon witnessed a slaughter of the innocents by a Secretary of State for Defence who does not even understand his own statement.
The hon. Gentleman should have given some evidence for his last assertion, but I am perfectly willing to debate it with him. I am sure that the House will have many opportunities to do so. The hon. Gentleman normally speaks very effectively about Army matters, and I am sure that he is not suggesting that the size of the regular Army should include the TA simply for the purpose of making a convenient party political comparison.
Order. We must move on. The recommendation from the Modernisation Committee was that statements should take an hour. We have had an hour and a quarter. I have tried to move strategically around the country, but I apologise if any sensitivity has been overlooked. That has not been intentional.