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Lord Bramall: 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
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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
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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?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his general support of the principles behind—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bach: 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.

Lord Garden: My Lords—

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords—

Lord Truscott: My Lords—

Lord Inge: My Lords—

Baroness Crawley: 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.

Lord King of Bridgwater: 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
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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 17 January, when we will have ample opportunity to explore very much more fully, when we are much better informed, what the Government have actually been saying today.

Lord Bach: 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 17 January. I know that the noble Lord is surprised
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at what the Chief of the General Staff said on the radio this morning about the commitment of the infantry. I understand that 20 per cent of the infantry is on tour at present. That figure has not been picked out of the air; it is the right figure. It is because of that, plus the reduction in the Northern Ireland requirement—which we should be pleased about—and the increased efficiency that everyone seems to agree will result from ending the Arms Plot, that we are in a position to make this announcement today.

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