My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall repeat a Statement being made as I speak by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"I announced in July a rebalancing of the Army designed to make it better able to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century. The changes 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 therefore is 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. The first is the 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 this in place.
"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.
"4th Armoured Brigade, based in Germany, 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.
"But it is important to emphasise that we cannot use the 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 reorganisation: making the Army more robust and resilient, 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, which 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 redistributed. We still have further work to do in establishing all the new arrangements. However, enhancements 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 logistic 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.
"These are new capabilities—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 be 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 be achieved only as the result of the planned reduction by four in the number of infantry battalions, which will release about 2,400 posts for redeployment across the force structure.
"It is to the changes to the infantry that I now turn. I know that this is an emotive subject. I entirely understand the importance to morale, esprit de corps and operational effectiveness of regimental traditions.
"But we need to consider these changes to the infantry in the wider context of rebalancing the Army and the opportunity it affords to reallocate 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 that 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 the 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, which 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.
"This 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, that 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 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 re-role. At any one time, as many as seven may be unavailable for operations. This 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 also allow career development for both 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. 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 honourable 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 also rightly tempered this 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. It concluded that these 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 which are so important to the fabric of our national life. Their existing structure already provides the geographical stability which we are looking to achieve elsewhere.
"Against this background, I have decided, as recommended by the Army, that the first three battalions should be reduced as follows. One battalion will be taken from the Scottish Division. The Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers will merge. This 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, the 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. This 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.
"Critical to our prosecution of the war against terror are our Special Forces. We were able to announce some improvements to our Special Forces in July. We are also looking at the broader arrangements through which the Armed Forces provide support to Special Forces operations. One option that has emerged in this 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, which 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 already 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 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). And 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, heritages, cultures and local connections will live on in the new arrangements. Golden threads of identity will be preserved within any new uniform; for example, by the retention of accoutrements, such as 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.
"Nor will there be any 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, these changes will provide more TA manpower for specialist areas, including intelligence, engineers, the Military Provost Service and Attack Helicopter support teams.
"TA establishments will be organised to accommodate those personnel who may not be able to deploy in support of a large-scale operation. TA establishments 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 to reduce the number of Royal Armoured Corps bands from four to two. We will also be reducing the band of the Light Division by 14 posts to bring it into line with the rest of the line infantry.
"We will be trying 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 I have announced today will require a limited redundancy programme. The scheme will be carefully targeted at 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 around 400 personnel will be affected. Details of terms and conditions will be set out in the new year.
"But, and 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 over 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. 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 army structure will deliver an Army fit for the challenges 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".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, to be contemplating cuts to the infantry at a time of international instability, with the threat of terrorist attacks at home on top of unsustainable operational overstretch defies logic and all the lessons of history. So what is the Government's response? Cut the infantry. This is a sad day. Some of our most famous regiments have been killed off. Those regiments have given outstanding service to our country and we owe them very much. I am happy to join the Minister in paying tribute to the Army's professionalism, courage and determination to succeed.
What will happen when the next important commitment comes along? How will the Army cope if we are faced with another firemen's strike or a crisis like that of foot and mouth? Ministers try to persuade themselves that the Army supports these cuts. But senior officers have expressed serious concerns to me and to other members of the Opposition Front Bench team that a cut in the number of battalions will seriously reduce the Army's ability to meet any new threats. This is being forced on the Army by the Treasury which will not fund our Armed Forces at the proper level, both in manpower and equipment, to undertake the ever-growing tasks the Prime Minister lays upon them.
What has happened since 1998 to convince the Government not only to reverse the SDR plans, but to introduce further cuts? It appears that someone here has been reading the wrong intelligence dossier, yet again. The CIA has warned that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating. The Americans have increased their garrison in that country by some 15,000, and the MoD now tells us that our troops will remain there until 2008.
We are being pressed to increase our commitment to Afghanistan. We still have Kosovo, Bosnia, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus and Northern Ireland. And the Government's own White Paper anticipates that around the world, these obligations will increase. While we are reducing our infantry, the Americans and the Australians are increasing theirs. The infantryman is, and will remain, the most important battle and peace-winning component of our defence capability.
Clearly rotation intervals are too short. So what is the Government's response? Reduce the number of regiments available for rotation. The tour gap between operations is meant to be 24 months; currently, it is averaging out at nine months for the infantry. The King's Own Scottish Borderers had no leave after finishing in the Gulf and going to Northern Ireland.
"I would much prefer increasing the size of the Army but that is simply not on offer".
The Army's endorsement appears to be forced, with the qualification,
"best we could hope for in the circumstances".
Such qualified acceptance is then spun by Ministers into:
"These proposals are of course fully supported by the Service Chiefs".
We are pleased that the Gurkhas have been saved and that there will not be any reduction in the role or size of the TA. We agree that there is a need for our Armed Forces to be more usable, and we will support the Government on ending the arms plot. We must have stability for the families. But we do not see the linkage between ending arms plotting and reducing the number of regiments
May I now ask the Minister some questions? Will these changes still go ahead if troops are not able to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland? What contingency plans are in place to ensure that troops will be made available should the security situation deteriorate once again?
Ministers have said that the infantry manpower freed up by these cuts will be re-allocated to logistical and engineer units or as intelligence specialists. Exactly how will that be achieved?
The Statement mentions new uniforms. Will the MoD be paying for these, particularly as a new service-dress uniform is being introduced in three years' time? A particular concern has been expressed to us in regard to young officers and NCOs and the cost of replacing their mess dress.
Finally, can the Minister confirm that these infantry cuts are merely the first stage of further cuts if the Treasury demands more savings?
In thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement, I invite him to go back to his colleagues and tell them that these cuts are simply not acceptable.
The concept of regiments having one or more battalions makes operational sense. As the Statement points out, more than 11 battalions are, at any time, moving, relocating or re-roling, which must be unacceptable in today's Army. It is one of the reasons that the Army has so many difficulties with recruiting and retention, which is the major cause and result of overstretch.
The Statement mentions the issue of families. The sight of soldiers returning from Iraq—particularly the Black Watch—has brought home to us all the pressure that Army families are under at the moment. Obviously in the larger regiments it will be individuals moving around rather than units, and it is to be hoped that this will stop some of the dislocation in family life.
The Statement also refers to the size of the Army. The real issue for us is not how the Army is made up but, to a large degree, its size. Without soldiers on the ground there will be a real issue in meeting the many commitments that have been undertaken. Is the reduced size that the Army is looking to over the next year a reflection of its manned strength? In other words, will the reduction in the size of the Army reflect the reality in the Army at the moment—which is that it is running under its manned capacity?
I ask the same question in regard to the Territorial Army. I apologise for being a couple of minutes late entering the Chamber. I was looking outside for a copy of the Statement, which I could not find. It states that the Territorial Army,
"will remain broadly the same size as today but with a structure that is more capable and relevant to future operations".
The phrase "the same size" raises questions. Does it mean the same size as its manned strength at the moment or its establishment strength? Obviously if the Minister is saying that the Territorial Army will be reduced to its present manned strength, that means there will be a cut in its establishment strength.
There has been a great deal of lobbying—I know the Minister will have been lobbied—but that process has come to an end. The interesting aspect of the Statement was the loss of the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment and its re-roling as a ranger unit. We will follow this development with great interest. We understand that the role of the special forces is vital, but they cannot—although it seems to be almost accepted wisdom in the press now—compensate for large numbers of troops in theatre.
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for what they have had to say. I am slightly disappointed—if not entirely surprised—by the reaction of the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, who speaks for the Official Opposition but who also has a deep personal attachment to the Armed Forces. In doing what he has no doubt been ordered to do, he makes the Conservative Party look as though it believes that the Army is some kind of museum piece.
That is very disappointing indeed because Conservative governments in the past, under some Secretaries of State who are now Members of this House, were quite prepared to amalgamate regiments where it was necessary and proper to do so because that was the way in which the Army had to go.
I repeat, the infantry changes are an important part of the changes to the Army generally. It is essential that the Army changes to meet the demands of current and future operations and we must not have an army which fights the battles of yesterday. If the opportunity is not grasped now, it is our view—and the Army's view— that its war-fighting capability could be significantly threatened.
Progress in Northern Ireland has enabled the reinvestment of about 3,000 posts across the Army, especially in those trades which are in great demand. The noble Lord asked a proper question about how we will be able to place more engineers, more logisticians, more intelligence operators. These people—"key enablers" as they are described in modern parlance—are absolutely crucial if we are to continue to deliver a robust expeditionary war-fighting capability. Of the 3,000 posts that will come from progress in Northern Ireland, 2,400 will go as engineers, logisticians and intelligence operators—key enablers—to the various brigades, divisions and regiments where there have been gaps. This will ensure that they are better prepared for the kind of exercise that they are likely to have to carry out.
I resent—not on the Government's behalf, because we are meant to be big enough to take it—on the Army's behalf that the noble Lord begins to challenge the prospect that somehow the Army has been forced into this step by politicians. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the noble Lord had had the opportunity of listening to the Chief of the General Staff this morning he would know that that was not so. Indeed, the very idea that this particular Chief of the General Staff could be suborned by politicians into coming up with a scheme for his army that he did not like is so ridiculous as almost to pass understanding. Of course the Army Board is absolutely in favour of this because, like all Army Boards in the past, it wants to see an army for the future and the present, not one for the day before yesterday.
That is why, with the greatest respect, I advise the noble Lord that his party can shout off today—fair enough; I understand that—but, in time, it should perhaps contemplate a little more carefully what it is that both the Army and we want. There is a need for his party to accept that change is necessary.
Beyond saying that he is in favour of the change to the Arms Plot, the noble Lord has not told us whether he is in favour of amalgamating infantry battalions into larger regiments. Of course, our case is that it follows, as night follows day, that once you get rid of the Arms Plot the only sensible thing to do is to have regiments made up of more than one battalion; to have multi-battalion regiments. You cannot get rid of the Arms Plot sensibly without doing that. I am sure the noble Lord will concede that. We are not, as the noble Lord said, "getting rid of the infantry". We are merging some infantry regiments and he will see what the net result is.
I was surprised and delighted by the general support for what we are doing from the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. It is important to see what we are doing in the context of changes across the Army as a whole. The Army has always evolved to meet current and future challenges. While the Army cherishes its traditions, it cannot base future capability on tradition alone. It has always had a proud history of embracing necessary change. That has happened under Conservative and Labour governments. It is my regret that the present Conservative Opposition are not prepared to accept the logic of this case.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement being made in another place on the most sweeping changes to the British Army, particularly the infantry. I want to make it perfectly clear that I entirely support what the Chief of the General Staff is endeavouring to do to make regiments larger—and therefore more viable—better and more consistently manned, and more operationally available than many regiments may have been in the past. This could have happened, as indeed it happened to some proud regiments 40 years ago. Given the hand that he had to play, the Chief of the General Staff has probably done it as well as he possibly could.
I greatly welcome what the Minister had to say about the Territorial Army and the closer link with the regiments in the various divisions. I also noted with some amusement the weasel wording that applied to the regiment of the Scottish Division, as opposed to that which applied to the King's Division in the Yorkshire, Lancashire and Mercian regiments. But one knows it is more difficult in Scotland. Does the Minister not agree that it would have been so much easier, safer for the country, and would have caused far less pain and grief to those now concerned, if, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, said, the Chief of the General Staff had not been forced to do this while at the same time having to remove a significant number of battalions—no fewer than four—from the order of battle?
The Minister will deny it if he can, but is it not a fact that the reason for this is that civil servants in the Treasury, with no military experience at all—nor, of course, have any members of the Cabinet—have decided that with Northern Ireland more tranquil, although still not settled, four battalions that were available to be there in emergency may no longer be required in that role? They are apparently completely oblivious of the fact that, even with those battalions, the infantry was grossly overstretched, with, in some cases, tour intervals of nine months instead of two years. Many other open-ended commitments have since arisen; for example, in Iraq, highlighted by calling up more reserves. These have more than offset any easement elsewhere. With the world as dangerous and uncertain as it is, the interventionist foreign policy of this Government needs more, not less, infantry, as well as the important signals, logistic and other support services, and the enhancements that I greatly welcome.
As a result of that very academic exercise, the Treasury has put a cap on Army manpower, which can only be breached if other important parts of the defence programme, perhaps even in other services, were to suffer. So, of course, the cut in unit numbers and finding the recruits for them was all about money, whatever the Minister of Defence may say.
Does the Minister not agree that with the British Army being weakened in this way and mucked about—if I were not in your Lordships' House, I would have used an even stronger word—in morale terms, it is about time that someone found the backbone to stand up and say that at a time like this the loss of as many as four battalions is just not on.
Finally, I shall ask the Minister a simple question. In a sense I agree about bands, because the only good military bands are big bands—50 strong, that can play out of doors, in the open air, and make an impact. But can he tell me the logic of why the Light Division band—which plays somewhat different music from the rest of the Army and is the only band in the division for five battalions—has to lose 14 musicians?
My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his general support of the principles behind—
My Lords, I do not think that I misquote him. I think he expressed his general support for much of the philosophy behind some of the changes that are taking place. If I am wrong about that, I know he will be the first to say so.
I understand the noble and gallant Lord's concerns about the infantry, but it is the view of the executive committee of the Army Board that, in the restructuring of the Army for this century, it is important not to have too large an infantry element but to spread it out across the rest of the Army, particularly because of the need for more enablers in order to conduct expeditionary warfare. So it is a deliberate policy, supported by the Army, not to have the same number of infantrymen as there has been in the past. Its view is that such a number is not necessary at the present time, nor is it likely to be necessary in the foreseeable future. That view has been clearly expressed to us.
As regards the Light Division band, we are merely bringing it into line with the rest of the infantry, so that the band will have 35 posts rather than 49. That is the answer to the specific question on the band. The noble and gallant Lord understands better than some other noble Lords the need to get rid of the Arms Plot and, thus, the need not to have single battalion regiments. That is the crux of the infantry side of this debate. But the issue is the restructuring of the whole Army. There are 10,000 changes and 94 per cent of units are affected in some way. I took from what the noble and gallant Lord said that he generally supported the philosophy behind that.
My Lords, there will be plenty of time for all noble Lords on their feet to speak. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord King, will speak first.
My Lords, first, I apologise to the Minister because I was not here for the beginning of the Statement, although the advantage of having Statements made in both Houses is that I actually heard his right honourable friend make the Statement.
I understand the arguments about the arms plot. I know that the noble and gallant Lord has continuously supported this approach. As an infantryman myself, I have never had much difficulty with the concept of larger regiments. I also welcome what he said about the Ghurkhas, which is profoundly right. But I regard this as the way not to handle a reorganisation that could have a lot of merit behind it. There are things that one does not do. One does not reorganise when there is a war going on. Nobody has any excuse for not recognising the sensitivity of the infantry. I had the same problem with Options for Change. Options for Change was frozen completely, pushed completely aside, because we had a war at the time. The trouble that the Government have had over the Black Watch proves to them how unwise it was to launch it at this time, and I am sure that they understand.
Secondly, one does not reorganise if there are good merits for it when Treasury pressure is obviously driving a considerable part of the exercise. We were listening to the Statement going splendidly on the logic of larger regiments, and then we suddenly started getting into the bandsmen. There are some 400 redundancies in general and then we get the most pathetic of items, an announcement about the loss of 14 bandsmen in the Light Division. I am afraid that really blew the Government's cover on that.
We all heard the Chief of the General Staff talking this morning about overstretch. I was very surprised to hear him say that there was no overstretch in the infantry and that it was only in specialised sections. At the present time, with the likelihood of increased commitments in Iraq and possibly in Afghanistan, the Government's commitment in Bosnia to 13 battle groups under the European Union, the uncertainties of the future, the commitments to homeland defence under some arrangement or other involving TA personnel, it seems incredible that the Government are proposing to cut the numbers they intended to have in the Army.
The weasel word that I heard was "rebalancing". The Government are very careful with their vocabulary, and we are "rebalancing" the TA. I am deeply suspicious about what that means.
With every government Statement, I have learnt that you need to go away, read it very carefully, have the time to consider it in more depth and listen to one or two other people telling you what it means. I am delighted that we will have a defence debate on
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who speaks with vast experience, and I hesitate to disagree with him. He says that this is not the right time. There is never a right time for making announcements of this importance, but we have to move ahead. It is critical that the Army does not get left behind. That is why the Secretary of State has said what he did today and in July.
I shall deal with only one other point that the noble Lord raised today—I, too, look forward to the debate on
My Lords, I welcome and support the broad thrust of the Minister's case for the proposals on the capability and flexibility within the larger regiment. The Secretary of State recently met a delegation comprising myself, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and my noble friend Lord Tenby on the name, future and headquarters of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. While I very much welcome the decision to retain the Royal Welch Fusiliers, I express my very grave disappointment that the Government's decision on name is, as I understand it, wholly different from their decision on the regiments of Scotland and, indeed, inconsistent with their argument on the Guards. As the Minister said a moment ago, their title and structure were taken into account.
I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter. We stress the importance of history and, perhaps much more important, the very good record of recruitment of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I fail to understand the distinction between the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland) and why we could not have our name put first, with "1st Battalion of the Regiment of Wales" put after it. It is important for historical and recruitment purposes.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord makes his point in a very convincing way. I will take his point away but, as he knows, I cannot promise that there will be any change after these decisions. It has taken a long time to come to a final view. However, we are convinced that the important ethos of the regiments to which the noble and learned Lord referred will survive. He need have no fears about that.
My Lords, the Minister has had the best part of two hours' notice of the question I am about to ask. When we look at overstretch, it is no good taking a snapshot and saying this morning that 20 per cent is away. Does the Minister agree that we have to consider the issue over a period of time? The Army objective of a 24-month interval for units between operational tours is quite clear. Can he assure the House that when all of this is implemented, in three years' time, which will give the changes enough time to go through, there will be 24 months between intervals for all units in the Army?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for having given me notice of an important question. I cannot give him that guarantee, and he would not expect me to, but we are working towards that. The Chief of the General Staff said that the average across the Army—I shall come on to the differences—is about 24 months. Of course, some have done better than that and some have done worse. Indeed, some of the infantry have done worse, which I think was the purpose of the noble Lord's question. Not all the Scottish regiments have done worse, although some certainly have.
The Army has been very busy in recent months, but the changes I have described today will, we believe, enhance our deployability and not diminish it. I have not succeeded in getting across to everyone in the House the point that by getting rid of the Arms Plot, there will be more, not fewer, infantry battalions available for deployment. At the moment, there are many fewer than the 40 because of the re-roling and the moving that has to take place. Once we have got rid of the Arms Plot, many, many more battalions will be available for deployment. As a consequence, it should be easier for the 24-month gap to be maintained.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. I support the enhancements, which, except for the ranger battalion, have been mentioned before in this House. I support the improvements to command and control, logistics, engineers and the ranger battalion.
Although I am sad to see my regiment change its name, I am not fighting to keep the Arms Plot. In many ways, I welcome those changes. But the Minister must have been talking to different people from those I have talked to. The infantry, the Chief of the General Staff and the people I have spoken to have made it quite clear that losing three battalions was a hard choice that had to be made to allow the enhancements to take place. The enhancements were, in their view, more important than the three battalions. If you said to them that more money was available and asked to have their three battalions, I am absolutely clear what their answer would be.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. I know that he talks widely on these matters. I simply repeat that the Army Board is fully behind these proposals. In an ideal world, where all departments of state had as much money as they wanted, of course there would be other views, but my understanding is that the Army Board and the Chief of the General Staff support these proposals.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that despite the very welcome enhancements he has announced and the very welcome salvation of the Brigade of Guards, the Ghurkhas, and the Royal Air Force regiments, this is a very sad and retrograde day for the Army, for the Government, for Scotland and for Great Britain?
My Lords, I know how strongly the noble Baroness feels about these matters. She knows that I cannot agree with her, but I understand the depth and experience with which she speaks. I do not know whether it will help if I mention what Lieutenant-Colonel James Cowan, the commanding officer of the Black Watch, was quoted as saying in the Sunday Telegraph on
"Retired soldiers and officers are criticising the reorganisation because they feel passionately about our historic regiment. But I am passionate about it too and the changes proposed are sensible. The old soldiers should get into line with serving soldiers who are supporting the proposals. They should stop complaining and rally round in support. The time has come for peace in the regimental family".
I do not know whether that is of any assistance to the noble Baroness.
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister confirm once more that, as he mentioned in passing, these changes will actually result in more boots on the ground, not less? Secondly, will they not reduce the frequency of relocation of Army families, which I believe is very important?
Yes, my Lords, I can confirm those matters. Anyone who studies the proposals will realise that that is the case. In trying to move the Army forward to meet the needs of this century, it is important to make changes. Changes are always difficult, but it is our obligation to make them and I believe that we are making them in the right way.
My Lords, that is obviously a guarantee that no Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, wherever he came from, could possibly give. However, a judgment must be made about these things, and anyone who has been to the Province recently knows that the position has changed dramatically over the past 10 years or so.
The noble Lord asks a reasonable question, however. All this is based on the suggestion that Northern Ireland does not revert to the position it was in some years ago. We are confident, as much as we can be, that it will not. These changes, particularly with regard to numbers, will not happen if there is a reversion to the previous situation in Northern Ireland. They are dependent on the situation in Northern Ireland continuing to improve.
My Lords, I speak as someone who has been in the Chamber throughout. I am conscious that on the occasion of momentous Statements, we can run beyond 20 minutes. If I may say so, the Whip gave an assurance that there would be ample time for all noble Lords to speak.
My Lords, I understand that other noble Lords would like to ask questions. The noble Lord, Lord King, reminded us that we shall have a full debate on