HL Deb 30 January 1991 vol 525 cc699-700

Lord Parry asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have anything further to add to the assurances given about the role of the General Officer Commanding Wales and the future provision for the army in Wales given by the Earl of Arran on 18th June 1990 (HL Deb., cols. 725–6.).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, I have little to add to the Answer I gave to the noble Lord on 18th June last year. Although no decision has yet been taken, consideration of the review of the United Kingdom land forces is now at an advanced stage and further announcements will be made at the appropriate time.

Lord Parry

My Lords, the House and the Minister will recognise that while I thank him for that Answer, it is not helpful at this stage. In view of the changes in international affairs that have taken place since last June, and in view of the concerns of the Welsh people, will he add to his Answer and tell me how he ascertained the views of those in Wales as he promised in June that he would?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we have had extensive consultations at ministerial and official level with the Welsh Office. Furthermore, many prominent people from the principality have had discussions with the Ministry of Defence.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is extreme sensitivity in Wales over this matter? Wales is a nation within the United Kingdom. When, about four or five years ago, it was suspected that there would be a downgrading in Wales, the then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Heseltine, met an all-party delegation which consisted of the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn, Lord Gibson-Watt and myself. Is the present Secretary of State willing to entertain a similar delegation to enable it to put the views of Wales to him?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we are aware of the sensitivity of Wales on this subject, but what is obviously of prime importance is the operational effectiveness of the United Kingdom land forces. As regards a delegation to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, I believe that enough consultation on the subject has already taken place.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the Minister aware that what is of prime importance is that the feelings and views of the people of Wales should be taken fully into account? Will he confirm that the contribution of Wales to the armed forces is higher in ratio than that of England, Scotland and Ireland? Will he give the House the figures? Will he take account of what my noble friend Lord Hooson said? Feelings in Wales on this subject are running high? If Wales is downgraded in the terms mentioned by my noble friend, and Scotland is left as it is, the repercussions will be extremely serious for the Ministry of Defence, the Secretary of State for Defence, and the noble Earl, if he is not careful.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that I should ignore the last past of the noble Lord's question. I repeat that we are aware of the sensitivity of Wales over the streamlining of United Kingdom land forces. The strength of the military in Wales is currently about 600 people.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, leaving aside the particular aspects of this Question, is it not unusual, when a delegation of Members of Parliament asks for a meeting on such an issue, for that request not to be granted?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as I said, representations on this subject have been made by many prominent people, including councillors and Members of Parliament.

Lord Parry

My Lords, with the permission of the House perhaps I can come back to the Minister and ask whether he believes that merely to quote the numbers involved addresses the Question that I asked or the question asked by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, which was not answered, about the ratio and recruitment of the soldiery in Wales to the British Army? Does the Minister accept that it is no coincidence that one of the most recent General Officers Commanding Wales, Lieutenant-General Sir Peter de la Billière, is now commanding the British forces in the Gulf?

The Earl of Arran

And a very good job the general is doing in the Gulf, if I may say so, my Lords. I must repeat that it is not a question of numbers; it is not a question of there being about 600 people; it is a question of streamlining and of making as efficient as possible the operational effectiveness of United Kingdom land forces. In no way shall we be demeaning or downgrading Wales in our esteem.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when, on a recent visit to less dangerous ground than Wales, a photograph of him in service uniform in the Gulf appeared in the newspapers, he cut a very good figure?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that is a particular piece of flattery which I am certain I do not deserve.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, what is wrong with Brecon as the headquarters of Western Command? Why is it to be moved to Shrewsbury?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is speculating.

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