Army Restructuring: Scottish Regiments

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 21st June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative 2:53 pm, 21st June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of existing military commitments, they will reconsider their plans to create a combined Scottish super-regiment.

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

No, my Lords. It is exactly because of the need to address the new threats to security centred on international terrorism, failing states and weapons of mass destruction that the rebalancing of the Armed Forces is so essential. Our plans will ensure that they are more flexible and deployable, and are able to generate the right capability in a less predictable and more complex operating environment. The restructuring of the infantry, including in Scotland, is a key element of this.

Photo of Lord Monro of Langholm Lord Monro of Langholm Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that when the Government made their ill judged Statement last year, all Scotland believed that the Scottish regiments would retain their tartans, cap badges and, where appropriate, their hackles? Why is it that they now all have to wear the same tartan and cap badge? This is causing great disappointment both in Scotland and among the various battalions. Are the Government going to support fully the regimental museums and the regimental headquarters of all the battalions?

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

My Lords, the restructuring of our Armed Forces in order to meet the demands being made of them in the 21st century is absolutely essential. The decisions that have been taken to do this are right; they are the right things to do. A failure to make those changes to restructure our forces would be a dereliction of our duty to do so. However, the process by which those changes are implemented has fully to take into account and to respect the important traditions of our Armed Forces, in particular the Scottish regiments, being mindful of the concerns relating to issues such as tartans and cap badges in Scotland.

My understanding is that no firm decisions relating to those issues have been taken as such, and these decisions are really for the Armed Forces. They are best placed to judge how these traditions can best be maintained and how the golden thread, which is so essential to the future morale of our regiments, is sustained. It is a matter that requires a light touch from politicians.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, given the dramatic decline in recent recruitment levels within Scotland's six infantry regiments, does the Minister agree with the explanation given by current recruitment teams that a young lad does not come along to enlist in some amorphous unit; instead, he wants to join a regiment of his choice, such as the one his father or grandfather served in?

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

My Lords, I recognise and respect the deep pool of expertise that exists on this issue. It is important that we also recognise the realities of the recent history of recruitment and the future forecast of the challenges to recruitment in Scotland based upon our understanding of what is happening demographically and the increasingly competitive environment to recruitment, including the great impact that has been made by the Government in providing opportunities for further education. Notwithstanding that, the bold decision taken by the commanders in Scotland to amalgamate the battalions into one super-regiment offers the opportunity to maintain traditions and to provide a structure which will truly meet the capability requirements of the challenges our Armed Forces will face in future expeditionary operations. It is the right balance.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, I declare a family interest. My father served in the 4th Battalion of a multi-battalion regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, which has sadly now ceased to exist. During his service as a non-commissioned officer he was seconded to the Argyll and Sutherland and to the London Scottish. Such things happened even in those days. We all recognise that there are strong arguments for multi-battalion regiments and the flexibility that they give.

I should like to ask two questions. Can there be a degree of flexibility which recognises that battalions within a multi-battalion regiment have their own continuing local connections and traditions? Should we not attach considerable importance to that?

I understand that recruitment has been falling in Scotland for some time—indeed, it did so before this decision. Are figures available on the number of Fijians now serving in Scottish infantry regiments? Is it something that should concern the Scots in terms of local traditions and how recruitment is changing?

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

My Lords, with regard to the noble Lord's last point, it is true that in Scotland a significant proportion of certain regiments contain people from other nations. We should recognise the tremendous impact that these people have made. They are high quality people who have added to the capability of these regiments.

As to the noble Lord's first point, I am grateful to him for pointing out that there is recognition of the need for this change. There is a recognition in many parts of the House that the decision has been taken to eliminate the arms plot in order to bring greater efficiency to our Army and to ensure that the battalions that we have are available for service and that the disruption to the lives of our soldiers inherent in the arms plot can be removed.

Once one accepts that the arms plot is no longer to be, the need for multi-battalion regiments follows. The question therefore has been how the Army can be organised to ensure that we have the resources to address the pinch points we have experienced in the expeditionary nature of the operations we have had to undertake. We are making the investment in those areas—logisticians, intelligence people and so on—and we are rebalancing the Armed Forces to do this. Our Army is in fact bigger than it was in 1997.

Photo of Lord Truscott Lord Truscott Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the recent regimental changes, supported by the Army Board, the Chiefs of Staff and the overwhelming majority of service personnel, will increase the number of battalions deployable for operations across the world? Given the point my noble friend made about the arms plot and the expansion in the size of regiments to two battalions or more, does he further agree that these changes will enhance the opportunities and the quality of life of Armed Forces personnel and their families?

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

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He is absolutely right to stress that the decisions have been taken by the executive committee of the Army Board. The removal of the arms plot will lead to a 20 per cent improvement in the efficiency of the battalions. Although we have reduced the number of battalions by four to enable us to make the investment needed in the "enablers" I have referred to—the logisticians and so on—the battalions that we do have will be available for active service more often because of the change to the organisation. The quality of life of our soldiers will be improved by the removal of the disruption that they have had in the past because of the arms plot.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, as regards the question asked by my noble friend Lord Monro about museums, what will happen to the museums of the existing Scottish regiments? If they are to be amalgamated into one museum, why?

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising that point, because I failed to address it earlier. The locations of museums and headquarters are being considered. There is no overall review of museums. There is no desire to eliminate museums. On the contrary, we want to see the museums remain, particularly where they have been associated with the long tradition of fine regiments.

The issue is where they are located. In some cases, they are collocated with headquarters. In others, they are geographically separate. The question is, with the coming together of battalions into the new regiments, where is the best place for the headquarters to be located? The Army is going through that process now.

Photo of The Earl of Mar and Kellie The Earl of Mar and Kellie Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Scottish Home Affairs), Home Affairs, Whip

My Lords, after the amalgamation of the 91st and 93rd in the 1880s to form the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, for 20 years the officers found it difficult to speak to each other. What plans does the noble Lord have to make the next integration easier?

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

My Lords, we hope to improve on that. Being a relative newcomer to the Ministry of Defence, I do not have the benefit of the noble Earl's experience of history. However, in my short time at the Ministry of Defence, I have picked up that throughout the Army there is a recognition of the need to modernise. I want to stress that there is a duty of care to make sure that the structure of the forces is designed to meet the challenges that they will face—something that is widely respected.

With regard to the ability to talk to each other in future, I have seen the way in which our forces have become world class on that. The interoperability of RAF pilots, Navy pilots, marines, soldiers and personnel from the Royal Navy that you see when you go on HMS "Illustrious" is admirable. We have that strength with our Armed Forces, on which we want to build. The future Army structure would not be possible if that attitude did not prevail today.