HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc11-2
11. Mr. Robathan

What assessment he has made of the importance of the regimental system. [16805]

Dr. Reid

The strategic defence review's examination of the future structure of the Army is taking full account of the recognised strengths of the regimental system. It would, however, be premature for me to speculate on any particular aspect of the review's outcome.

Mr. Robathan

I welcome the Minister's statement because I know that he is personally committed to the regimental system. Will he ensure that the strategic defence review does not undermine the system, which is one of the strengths of the British Army? Does he agree that the current selection procedures throughout the armed forces and in regiments are based on merit and not anything that is politically correct?

Dr. Reid

I whole-heartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman on both statements.

Mr. Davidson

Does my hon. Friend agree that tradition in the regimental system can be a burden as well as a benefit? What steps will he take to ensure that regimental traditions that restrict access to the officer class are swept away? In particular, what steps is he taking to ensure that youngsters who are not from public schools can become officers and, say, guards in the cavalry regiments?

Dr. Reid

I have the utmost respect for the esprit de corps, the ethos and the almost concrete capacity of the regimental system to instil the will to fight in men—and, I hope, women—in the most difficult circumstances. As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, we have made it clear that we want the best and the brightest in the British armed forces. We want the widest possible pool of recruits and we want the pathways to progress in the armed forces to be open to all, irrespective of sex, ethnic background or social class. We shall maintain that commitment.

Mr. Key

On how many occasions since 1 May has the chain of command's responsibility for military discipline been the subject of intervention by Ministers, including the Lord Chancellor?

Dr. Reid

As far as Defence Ministers are concerned, none. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises, when he makes such imputations, that although he may be attempting to slur the Government Front Bench, he is also—wrongly—bringing into question the integrity of those in the Army chain of command, who would never allow such a thing. As for the hon. Gentleman's reference to the Lord Chancellor, I have no intention of commenting on internal advice or correspondence between Ministers, which I have already withheld under exemption 2 of the code of practice on access to information. The hon. Gentleman should know that that is always the position taken on such matters.