HC Deb 16 June 1997 vol 296 cc1-3
1. Mr. Fabricant

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for the future role of the Staffordshire regiment; and if he will make a statement. [2040]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Dr. John Reid)

The Staffordshire regiment is currently a light infantry battalion employed in the national defence role. The strategic defence review, launched on 28 May, will decide how our armed forces should be structured, equipped and deployed to meet our nation's interests and commitments. It would be premature to assess the likely outcome of the review before the process is complete.

Mr. Fabricant

I welcome the Minister and, indeed, the Secretary of State to their posts.

The Minister will recall that in 1991 there were contingency plans to merge the Staffordshire regiment with the Cheshires. As the Staffordshire regiment is one of only two county regiments in the British Army, and the morale of soldiers in the Staffordshire regiment will not be helped by the strategic defence review, will the Minister give some added assurance that the regiment, which was founded in Lichfield in 1705 and has an illustrious 300-year history, will have some future under a Labour Government?

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words. I recall the proposals that the Conservative Government made regarding the Staffordshire regiment, which were then reversed after a campaign by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am happy to acknowledge the regiment's long and proud history of service to the Crown which, as the hon. Gentleman said, dates back to 1705. I fully appreciate the sense of regimental identity and the close links that regiments may enjoy with the local community, but the hon. Gentleman—and hon. Members who may ask similar questions in respect of other regiments—will appreciate, as the regiment does, that it would be quite wrong to announce decisions about the outcome of the wide-ranging review before it has even started.

Mr. Maginnis

In support of what the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) suggested, I pay tribute to the Staffordshire regiment, which has served for five of the last 20 years in Northern Ireland with considerable distinction. It lost a man in south Armagh in 1984, and it served again in my constituency more recently. May I suggest to the Minister that it is wrong to keep our security services generally in a state of limbo and that six years after "Options for Change" it is time for consolidation? I implore him to move towards reassuring the men and women who serve in the armed forces.

Dr. Reid

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and to his backing for the Staffordshire regiment, which has served not only in Northern Ireland but in the Gulf war.

The ultimate purpose of the strategic defence review is to give the clarity of direction and the coherence to our strategy in foreign affairs and defence matters that have been singularly lacking throughout the past six or seven years, during which we have had one mini-review after another, regiments have been merged and chopped only to be reinstated and millions have been paid out in redundancy payments only to find that we are now short of soldiers. After a period of chaos and instability, the armed forces are entitled to ask that a new Government give some coherence and clarity, as we shall do with the strategic defence review.

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