HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc136-7
5. Mr. Trimble

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the implications of the "Options for Change" review on the number and deployment of Ulster Defence Regiment battalions.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton)

As part of his statement on the restructuring of the Army on 23 July my right hon. Friend announced that the Ulster Defence Regiment is to be integrated more fully into the Army by merging with the Royal Irish Rangers to create a new regiment. This new regiment will comprise one battalion for worldwide service and up to seven battalions for service in Northern Ireland. It is intended that members of the UDR will transfer to the home service battalions and will undertake the range of duties currently discharged by the UDR.

Mr. Trimble

I thank the Minister for repeating that statement. As he knows, we are prepared to give the changes a fair wind, subject to finding a more suitable name for the new regiment. My question is directed towards the implications of the "Options for Change" review, particularly in light of the Secretary of State's reaffirmation yesterday that there will be a 24-month interval between unaccompanied tours. Is not it a simple fact that one cannot rotate up to 20 battalions a year through Northern Ireland and at the same time reduce to a total of 38 battalions? Does not that imply either a serious restructuring of the nature of regular Army deployment in Northern Ireland or some significant changes in the way in which the UDR will operate?

Mr. Hamilton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving the proposals a fair wind. We are grateful for the support from within the Province. The name of the regiment was discussed at some length and several other ideas were suggested. This was the agreed name reached by the colonels of the regiment and I think that we must leave that judgment with them. It is important to take into account the bipartisan nature of the new regiment, which will recruit from the Catholic as well as the Protestant community. That will be one of its strengths in the future.

The 24-month roulement was one of the considerations in the forefront of our minds when we decided on the number of infantry battalions. We are satisfied that we shall be able to do better than at present, which is less than 24 months. That was one of the main considerations that we took into account. In addition, the Royal Marines will be part of the roulement more regularly than at present.

Mr. Kilfedder

May I appeal to the Minister to think again about the name of the new regiment and to retain the distinguished name of the Ulster Defence Regiment in view of the dedication and expertise of the men and women who have faced terrorism for so many years and because of the supreme sacrifice made by many members of that distinguished regiment?

Mr. Hamilton

It was precisely because we owe so much to the Ulster Defence Regiment that we felt that it was important to integrate it more fully with the regular British Army, as we are doing in the proposals. I am afraid that serious thought has been given to the name and it is unlikely that we shall be changing it.

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