§ 2. Mr. Salmond
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received in the review of Scottish regiments and battalions; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
A number of representations have been received about the future of Scottish regiments and battalions, all of which have been noted.
§ Mr. Salmond
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that it is becoming abundantly apparent from those representations that the regiments and the infantry are becoming overstretched on current commitments? Given that, will the Secretary of State further acknowledge that a reassessment of the Government's position on regimental mergers in Scotland would be welcome? The Secretary of State will have seen the comments of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that he has already been engaged in such a private reassessment. Is that the case and, if so, will he take this opportunity to share that information with the rest of the House?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question refers to Army manpower as a whole. I am satisfied that at present we can meet all our obligations without undue overstretch. If I ever came to a different conclusion, it would be appropriate to review the assumptions of "Options for Change".
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that he has always made it clear that Army manpower and the pressures on the Army are subject to constant review in the light of events? That is what I have been saying. Will he also confirm that the Scottish regiments are part of the fabric that makes the United Kingdom united, as is Rosyth dockyard, and that the political implications must also be taken into consideration?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I can certainly confirm that the Scottish regiments have made a fine and honourable contribution to the requirements of the United Kingdom armed forces over many years and I am sure that that will continue. As my hon. Friend knows, the future of the dockyards in the United Kingdom is presently under consideration.
§ Dr. Reid
What a complacent answer that was from the Secretary of State when neither he nor the Minister of State for the Armed Forces can give me a guarantee that our infantry men and women serving in Bosnia will not receive redundancy notices even while they are there and under fire. Is not it clear that we cannot possibly sustain two extra battalions in Northern Ireland, maintain an extended military force in Bosnia, assign units to an enhanced Western European Union, as the Secretary of State has promised, and contribute to the Gulf on the basis of defence plans that were drawn up before any of those commitments were known? Why does not the Secretary of State now do the honourable thing, carry out a full defence review and ensure that we have the troops necessary to meet the commitments that he and the Foreign Secretary keep making?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I would find the hon. Gentleman's indignation less synthetic if he did not represent a party whose conference called for further reductions in defence expenditure amounting to many billions of pounds. He should make up his mid about whether his party's policy accords with the views of its members.