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Mr. Hoon: 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 11 September in particular. Before then, the emphasis was on changing the TA so that it could be used in support of regular forces, as he said. However, it is clear that today we must consider how we respond to domestic crises and provide military support for the civilian agencies, which would have to deal with such crises initially. Indeed, we have already addressed this issue by forming rapidly deployable regional TA groupings. We have made a significant start in that regard, but there is further work still to do.
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): 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?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con):
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 affectedfor example, about promotion prospects, postings and
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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.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes an entirely sensible and practical point. I assure him that that will be attended to.
David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the £40 million of investment for the Glencorse barracks will go ahead and that the 500 personnel will be stationed there in the future? What use will be made of the barracks?
Mr. Hoon: I have no reason to change the present arrangements, as announced.
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): 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?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The Royal Irish Regiment was excluded from the review, yet it recruits more Fijians5.5 per cent.than any other regiment in the British Army. What is the Secretary of State going to do to encourage recruitment in Ireland, and are there too many Fijians in the British Army in any case?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):
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?
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Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale) (Lab): 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 Associationparticularly its secretary, John Rogerson the sterling work that they did to convince the Army Board to stick to its own criteria?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): 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?
Mr. Hoon: 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 Departmentsthose of all previous Governments, not just this Governmenthave 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 sothe history, tradition and reputation of the great Staffordshire Regiment.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I welcome the new ranger unit in support of our special forces, but will the Secretary of State give us more information on the size and structure of that force and clarify when it will come into being?
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.
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Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): 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?
Mr. Hoon: If the right hon. Gentleman checks, he will see that the word "recruitment" appears several times, because it is so vital.
Mr. Hoon: 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.
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