Scottish Regiments

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 7th July 2004.

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Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative 2:30 pm, 7th July 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to reduce the number of Scottish regiments.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the defence White Paper published last December established the policy context for shaping the future structure of our Armed Forces. For the Army, it outlined the vision of a more balanced force that is flexible, rapidly deployable and sustainable for the variety of missions that we envisage it undertaking.

Against this policy guidance, we have been working through the detailed implications for the Army's force structure. We anticipate being in a position to make announcements about the conclusions of this work shortly.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for his reply, is he aware of the fury that would be aroused if the UK regiments were disbanded? Is he also aware that for our overstretched soldiers serving abroad and doing wonderfully well it would be a disgraceful reward to be disbanded when they come home? Finally, is he aware that most Scottish regiments, particularly the Highlanders, will be up to strength in the autumn despite the cancellation of recruiting by the Government?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, there has been no cancellation of recruiting by the Government. There is no ban, no freeze and no cap on Army recruitment. The Army has an enlistment figure of 11,318 for the current financial year and since 1 April more than 1,500 recruits have enlisted. Of course, I know the strong feelings that are held on this matter. As I say, I am not in a position to make any announcement today. I can say, though, that the history of our Armed Forces is, of course, one of evolution. Our priority has to be to ensure continued and future operational success by responding to the changed strategic environment. Therefore, we have to modify and adapt our Armed Forces to be relevant, flexible and usable in this changed environment.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Shadow Minister, Defence

My Lords, will the Minister confirm or deny that the Army Board ordered Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin to bring down the numbers in the Army to 102,000 men to meet financial constraints because the Army cannot afford any more than 102,000 men even though the nominal figure at the moment is 107,000 men—5,000 undermanned? Will he confirm that that constraint rather than any other factor is preventing the Scottish regiments recruiting and coming up to strength?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the Liberal Democrats have it completely wrong. As a result of the Army's recruiting and retention success in recent years it has been necessary to take steps to manage strength within agreed targets and agreed budgets, as any large organisation would do. We have to do that in order to maintain balance in Army manpower numbers. As I said, the Army is progressing well towards its enlistment target of 11,318 for this year, and since April more than 1,500 have joined up. Recruitment has never been better.

Photo of Lord Bramall Lord Bramall Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister not at least agree that with the Army so manifestly overstretched and the future so utterly unpredictable it would be absolute madness and highly irresponsible to reduce the number of infantrymen and units available for sustained operational deployment now and in the future?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I take great note of what the noble and gallant Lord says but I have to say to him that experience demonstrates that our current light forces cannot provide the combat power required by some of the more demanding types of operation where rapid deployment is needed. At the same time our world-class heavy forces are comparatively slow to deploy and demanding to sustain. That means we have to shift from the current mix of light and heavy forces to a more graduated and balanced structure of light, medium and heavy forces together with a greater emphasis on enabling capabilities such as engineers, logistics and intelligence. We have to evolve.

Photo of Lord Garden Lord Garden Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction stabilisation operations are the way that we are going forward—we are going to have more of them—and that the British forces are unparalleled in their ability to carry them out? If the noble Lord agrees with that, does he not see that there is a need for numbers as well as equipment, and will he assure us that he will try to get the establishment of the Army up to where it should be, and should have been for some years?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I largely agree with what the noble Lord says. That is one of the prime roles of the British Armed Forces at the present time and will continue to be so. As I said, Army recruitment has never been higher.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Croy Lord Campbell of Croy Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall the successful Save the Argylls Campaign in the 1960s and 1970s in which I admit to having played a part? That campaign assisted other regiments to survive or merge which were threatened at the time. Would it not be unwise to repeat such threats?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I remember the campaign and I know the strength of feeling that there is now. The noble Lord, Lord Monro, expressed that very clearly. However, I shall quote the words of the Chief of Defence Staff to the House of Commons Defence Committee in April this year. He said:

"What I think both of us, and I think most of our senior generals . . . believe is that regimental fighting spirit is what makes the British Army what it is. Now the way by which you achieve that has many different courses of action which you could follow. It does not have . . . to be exactly as it is today for the future, nor is it today what it was 15 years ago. You have to modernise the regimental structure that we have to make sure that it is relevant to what we are doing, that it meets what defence policy requires of us and it does provide the regimental fighting spirit. I see no difficulty or tensions between those things".

I commend what he said to the House.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, where does provision come from for necessary home defence—but hardly normal defence—such as covering for the firemen? Will there be a special unit for that, or will we have to redeploy people who are already fully committed in other ways to do that from time to time, whenever the fancy takes the firemen?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I hope very much that there will be no need for the Armed Forces to come again to the aid of the country in the way in which they had to last year—but if they have to, they will.