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Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): 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?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon) (LD): 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.
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Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): 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?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): 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?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): 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.
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Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): 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 the Member for Newark (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?
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
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
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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.
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): 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.
Mr. Hoon: 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.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
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.
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