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Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, I welcome and support the broad thrust of the Minister's case for the proposals on the capability and flexibility within the larger regiment. The Secretary of State recently met a delegation comprising myself, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and my noble friend Lord Tenby on the name, future and headquarters of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. While I very much welcome the decision to retain the Royal Welch Fusiliers, I express my very grave disappointment that the Government's decision on name is, as I understand it, wholly different from their decision on the regiments of Scotland and, indeed, inconsistent with their argument on the Guards. As the Minister said a moment ago, their title and structure were taken into account.
I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter. We stress the importance of history and, perhaps much more important, the very good record of recruitment of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I fail to understand the distinction between the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland) and why we could not have our name put first, with "1st Battalion of the Regiment of Wales" put after it. It is important for historical and recruitment purposes.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord makes his point in a very convincing way. I will take his point away but, as he knows, I cannot promise that there will be any change after these decisions. It has taken a long time to come to a final view. However, we are convinced that the important ethos of the regiments to which the noble and learned Lord referred will survive. He need have no fears about that.
Lord Garden: My Lords, the Minister has had the best part of two hours' notice of the question I am about to ask. When we look at overstretch, it is no good taking a snapshot and saying this morning that 20 per cent is away. Does the Minister agree that we have to consider the issue over a period of time? The Army objective of a 24-month interval for units between operational tours is quite clear. Can he assure the House that when all of this is implemented, in three years' time, which will give the changes enough time to go through, there will be 24 months between intervals for all units in the Army?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for having given me notice of an important question. I cannot give him that guarantee, and he would not expect me to, but we are working towards
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that. The Chief of the General Staff said that the average across the ArmyI shall come on to the differencesis about 24 months. Of course, some have done better than that and some have done worse. Indeed, some of the infantry have done worse, which I think was the purpose of the noble Lord's question. Not all the Scottish regiments have done worse, although some certainly have.
The Army has been very busy in recent months, but the changes I have described today will, we believe, enhance our deployability and not diminish it. I have not succeeded in getting across to everyone in the House the point that by getting rid of the Arms Plot, there will be more, not fewer, infantry battalions available for deployment. At the moment, there are many fewer than the 40 because of the re-roling and the moving that has to take place. Once we have got rid of the Arms Plot, many, many more battalions will be available for deployment. As a consequence, it should be easier for the 24-month gap to be maintained.
Lord Inge: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. I support the enhancements, which, except for the ranger battalion, have been mentioned before in this House. I support the improvements to command and control, logistics, engineers and the ranger battalion.
Although I am sad to see my regiment change its name, I am not fighting to keep the Arms Plot. In many ways, I welcome those changes. But the Minister must have been talking to different people from those I have talked to. The infantry, the Chief of the General Staff and the people I have spoken to have made it quite clear that losing three battalions was a hard choice that had to be made to allow the enhancements to take place. The enhancements were, in their view, more important than the three battalions. If you said to them that more money was available and asked to have their three battalions, I am absolutely clear what their answer would be.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. I know that he talks widely on these matters. I simply repeat that the Army Board is fully behind these proposals. In an ideal world, where all departments of state had as much money as they wanted, of course there would be other views, but my understanding is that the Army Board and the Chief of the General Staff support these proposals.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, does the Minister agree that despite the very welcome enhancements he has announced and the very welcome salvation of the Brigade of Guards, the Ghurkhas, and the Royal Air Force regiments, this is a very sad and retrograde day for the Army, for the Government, for Scotland and for Great Britain?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I know how strongly the noble Baroness feels about these matters. She knows that I cannot agree with her, but I understand the depth and experience with which she speaks. I do not know whether it will help if I mention what
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Lieutenant-Colonel James Cowan, the commanding officer of the Black Watch, was quoted as saying in the Sunday Telegraph on 28 November. He said:
"Retired soldiers and officers are criticising the reorganisation because they feel passionately about our historic regiment. But I am passionate about it too and the changes proposed are sensible. The old soldiers should get into line with serving soldiers who are supporting the proposals. They should stop complaining and rally round in support. The time has come for peace in the regimental family".
Lord Truscott: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister confirm once more that, as he mentioned in passing, these changes will actually result in more boots on the ground, not less? Secondly, will they not reduce the frequency of relocation of Army families, which I believe is very important?
Lord Bach: Yes, my Lords, I can confirm those matters. Anyone who studies the proposals will realise that that is the case. In trying to move the Army forward to meet the needs of this century, it is important to make changes. Changes are always difficult, but it is our obligation to make them and I believe that we are making them in the right way.
Lord Elton: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has guaranteed that the situation will remain stable there sufficient to guarantee that these changes will not prove to be a disaster?
Lord Bach: My Lords, that is obviously a guarantee that no Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, wherever he came from, could possibly give. However, a judgment must be made about these things, and anyone who has been to the Province recently knows that the position has changed dramatically over the past 10 years or so.
The noble Lord asks a reasonable question, however. All this is based on the suggestion that Northern Ireland does not revert to the position it was in some years ago. We are confident, as much as we can be, that it will not. These changes, particularly with regard to numbers, will not happen if there is a reversion to the previous situation in Northern Ireland. They are dependent on the situation in Northern Ireland continuing to improve.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I speak as someone who has been in the Chamber throughout. I am conscious that on the occasion of momentous Statements, we can run beyond 20 minutes. If I may say so, the Whip gave an assurance that there would be ample time for all noble Lords to speak.
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Lord Bach: My Lords, I understand that other noble Lords would like to ask questions. The noble Lord, Lord King, reminded us that we shall have a full debate on 17 Januaryalthough I do not know whether it is for the whole day or half the day. Those noble Lords who have not been able to speak today are welcome to put down their names for that debate, and I shall attempt on that occasion to answer their questions.
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