HC Deb 09 July 2002 vol 388 cc730-1
6. Patrick Mercer (Newark)

What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Defence regarding the future of Scottish regiments. [65303]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office (Mrs. Anne McGuire)

My right hon. Friend has regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence on a wide range of defence matters. The Scottish regiments have an important continuing role in the United Kingdom's defence plans.

Patrick Mercer

I find it hard to be reassured by the Minister. With a new chapter of the strategic defence review about to be announced, it is interesting to note that the worst-recruited regiment in the Royal Armoured Corps is the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Britain's oldest regiment of infantry, the 1st Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots, already has 100 Fijians serving in its ranks. The 42nd Regiment of Foot, the Black Watch, is constantly under threat—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot go through all the Scottish regiments.

Mrs. McGuire

Speaking of having a cheek, the last regiment to lose its proud name was the Gordon Highlanders, and that was disbanded in 1994 under the previous Conservative Government.

I take this opportunity to pay special tribute to 45 Commando Royal Marines, based in Arbroath, who have just returned from Afghanistan. I assure the hon. Gentleman that when I was talking to Brigadier General Robert Gordon last week, he stated that the armed forces are putting all their resources into recruitment and that the figures are comfortable enough at the moment, given an economic situation in which people have other choices. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can say that it is not true if he wants, but I assure him that the Scottish regiments are putting a great deal of energy and commitment into recruitment and retention of forces.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important thing for our armed forces, to which we give the greatest challenges in this uncertain world, is operational effectiveness? Does she agree that those who would split Scotland from the UK risk that effectiveness in the gravest of ways?

Mrs. McGuire

I certainly would not like to compete with my hon. Friend on issues of defence. He is correct, and the Scottish National party's catastrophic policies on the United Kingdom would not only mean a diminution in our defence capability but impact economically on tens of thousands of jobs across Scotland.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

When the Minister is defending Scottish regiments in discussions with the Ministry of Defence—I shall not list all the Irish regiments, Mr. Speaker—will she try mention the end of the royal tournament, which was once a great platform for promoting the excellence of all three sections of our armed forces? Will she ask the MOD to stop penny-pinching and bring back the public sector money to promote the royal tournament at Olympia once again?

Mrs. McGuire

I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said about the royal tournament, but if he is at a loose end in August and early September, the tattoo in Edinburgh is a good substitute.