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It is 35 years since I left. My experience is that men of the utmost good character and
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capable of acts of great courage canin the heat of the moment, or as a result of provocation or out of a false sense of triumphalismlose all sense of what is right. They can lose the self control and discipline
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman prefaced his remarks by saying that he would be careful, but I think that he is already starting to veer into dangerous territory. The whole House needs to think very carefully about this matter now that so much has been said about it. Mr. Speaker made his statement earlier today, and I shall listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says, but he ought to steer away from that line now, for the sake of safety in this matter.
Mr. Greenway: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I wanted to conclude this section of my contribution by saying that my concern centres on the remarks made in the other place on Monday by General Lord Guthrie, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) referred earlier. Lord Guthrie saidand he should know better than anyonethat he believed that people were being sent to Iraq without proper training. That is a very serious issue, and we must consider it in the context of the current situation.
Mr. Greenway: I certainly will, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk made the point that Lord Guthrie also made it clear that the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Army Board would prefer the Army to be increased in size, and that they are generally unhappy about the cuts being made in the infantry. It is on that point that I wish to focus my remarks.
The Army has obeyed the Government's decision. All those who take a close interest in this matter understand the philosophy that commands are given and must be obeyed. However, although many of us have tried to be extremely constructive in our approach to the potential outcome of the Government's decision to reduce by four the number of battalions, to restructure all the regiments and to reduce the overall number of infantry soldiers, that does not mean that we agree with it. My view, which has already been expressed in this debate by other hon. Members, is that we should not be reducing infantry numbers at this time, or making the cuts on which the Government have decided.
In this debate, and in Monday's debate in the other place, a number of speakers have emphasised the degree of overstretch faced by the Army. They have also noted that we ask the Army to attend to any problem that might arise. Very often, that involves the relief of problems in our own society, such as those arising out of the atrocious weather of recent days.
I have said that we have tried to be constructive, but I want to draw the House's attention to the remarks made by General Sir Mike Jackson to the Defence
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Committee last week. The Chief of the General Staff praised the way in which Yorkshire's three regiments were willing to bite the bullet and get on with the job of transforming themselves into a new regional super-regiment. However, as the Under-Secretary knows, it was a close-run thing. From the letter that the Chief of Staff sent to all commanding officers on 16 December, it can be seen that the original intention was for two out of six regiments from the King's Division to be scrapped, which meant that one of the three Yorkshire regiments would have been scrapped. I am pleased that the case that I have made in this House and, particularly, in Westminster Hall in Novemberthat if there were to be cuts in the number of battalions, the Army should stick with the three battalion cuts that it had identified and put the fourth to one sidehas been accepted. That has sensibly been done by moving sideways the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment to a support battalion for our special forces from 2007.
Great relief is felt in Yorkshire that the three Yorkshire regiments will form the only future county regiment, the Yorkshire Regiment, but we still have some considerable concerns. The first fear is that the individual identities in the new structure, especially the Green Howards and the Duke of Wellington's, will be relegated into brackets. Several hon. Members have mentioned the way in which the new names have been crafted, which means that they could be airbrushed out at any time. The new structure will basically result in the Yorkshire Regiment, with 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions. At some convenient future date, one of those battalions could be dropped.
Several hon. Members have referred to the situation in Scotland and contrasted it with England and Wales. Scotland is being treated differently. I have read what the Chief of the Defence Staff said and I have spoken to the Minister of State. I understand that in Scotland six regiments will, in effect, be reduced to one and that there was therefore a case for putting the old names of the regiments ahead of the new names for the battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I do not understand the advantage of doing that. What is the reason behind it and what difference will it make? If it makes a difference to Scotland, surely it would make the same difference in England and Wales. However, if it is completely worthless and does not mean anything, why not do it anyway, given that many of us feel so strongly about it? The suspicion is that the Scots will largely retain the old regimental system within a regiment, whereas we in England and Wales will not.
Pete Wishart: It takes more than a name, whether in brackets or before a divisional name, to make a regiment. What makes a regiment are things such as cap badges, traditions and local recruiting areas. All those will be lost to Scottish regiments. It will make no difference if a name survives in front of a new title.
Well, we think that it will. The colonel of the Green Howards has made clear the utter determination of the three regiments to make the new Yorkshire Regiment a great success and to be the very best in the British Army. The Under-Secretary knows that that is the case. One would expect nothing less from a regiment that has faithfully served the Crown since 1688.
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I want to use this debate to explain a dimension to the argument that is often overlooked by people outside Yorkshire. It is a big county, more than 100 miles from north to south and almost 100 miles from west to east. In many respects, it is three if not four counties in one, with people still having strong links to and feelings for the old ridings. The Green Howards was a nickname adopted in 1744 to avoid confusion with another regiment commanded by a Colonel Howard; the soldiers had green facings on their uniforms and their colonel was the Hon. Charles Howard, the second son of the third Earl of Carlisle, who built Castle Howard in north Yorkshire. The regiment has been associated with the north riding of Yorkshire since 1782 and is one of only two English infantry regiments never to have been amalgamated. Similarly, the Duke of Wellingtons have always been associated with west Yorkshire. Since 1875, we have had a Scandinavian link through the colonels-in-chief; the present colonel-in-chief is King Harald V of Norway. We do not want that link to be lost.
At present, the three Yorkshire regiments have the brown beret in common. I hope that a new cap badge, fitting to the new regiment, will be one of grand design of which we can all be proud, and not based on the old Yorkshire Brigade cap badge of the 1960s. I can see no reason why at battalion level the belt buckle and rank slides of the three regiments should not be retained, nor even their mess dress, which, individually, could incorporate the new regimental insignia.
The Army may say that is none of our business, but I hope that the openness and public involvement of the past six months will prevail and that the Army does not close ranks and shut us all out. Without public support, the Army will not achieve what it wants by establishing the new single regiment.
Recruitment needs close public involvement to promote the right climate and attract the right calibre and numbers. Even in a recruitment area as small as that of the Green Howards, local contact is still necessary. The Army is not a major employer, but there are local links; for example, the Green Howards marched through Scarborough and Middlesbrough with fixed bayonets and colours flying, when they came back from Afghanistan last October.
Communications are also important. When our forces are on operations, some of which are extremely dangerous, people back home see and hear every movement and event as it happens. The stress and strain can be far harder for the families and communities left behind than for those on operations. The Chief of the Defence Staff has made it clear that families should have high priority in the future Army structure. Being in a close-knit community is a great help, just as community spirit is for those on the ground. Public support for our individual regiments over the past few months, especially for those serving in Iraq, has been tremendous. I pay tribute to the Yorkshire Post for highlighting our concerns and for helping us with our campaign. None of us wants to lose the good will that has been established.
I have told the Secretary of State in earlier debates that a Yorkshire regiment of three battalions and one Territorial Army battalion could be a real success. We must give the four battalions a chance and an edge and that will be greatly enhanced by allowing their individual identities to remain. That will give the
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Government everything that the future infantry structure requires and a regiment that the people of Yorkshire can continue to support and with which they can identify. The motto, "Once a Green Howard, always a Green Howard", is very much enshrined in the north riding community. I want it retained and taken forward.
None of the three battalions in the Yorkshire regiment will ever see one another in future, because they will all be posted to different places, some of them in other parts of the world. That gives rise to a question that was put earlier in the debate: why do we need to abolish the existing regimental structure? Even if one concededI do notthat the Government have a case for reducing the number of battalions by three, that does not mean that we should scrap all those regiments. Furthermore, we all now understand and appreciate the importance of scrapping the arms plot, but none of us can see why the ending of the arms plot should mean scrapping all those historic regimentsa central feature of the debate in the other place on Monday. However, that is what the Government have decided to do and, in Yorkshire, we will try to make a success of the new regiment.
The Minister of State said earlier that the Government and the Army Board are listening to the arguments about identities. I hope that he, his colleagues and the Army Board will reflect on what many of us have said in the debate about the importance of the names and the way the regiments are structured, and the importance of ensuring that as much of their current identity as possible is retained for the future. I genuinely believe that that is an important ingredient in the Government's achieving what they want.
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