HL Deb 14 November 1991 vol 532 cc678-96

4.54 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their provisional timetable for the future reorganisation of the Scottish regiments.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I suggest that we can all rejoice over the changes which have taken place in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. The Cold War has ended and reductions in the burden of armaments can be undertaken safely. I welcome in particular the decisions taken at the end of last week at the NATO summit meeting on the reduction of nuclear weapons.

Today I propose to raise one element of the British Government's proposals for the Army and in particular within the infantry, namely the future of the Scottish regiments. It is a subject of limited scope suitable for a debate of this kind.

I remind your Lordships that it is proposed that four regiments carry out two amalgamations—one Highland and one Lowland—and that the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards be placed in suspended animation. When amalgamations occur, in England as well as in Scotland, there are bound to be objections and anxiety in the recruiting areas of the regiments concerned. That is to be expected and is understandable. As regards the Scottish regiments I have to tell the House that reaction against the proposed amalgamations comes from the whole of Scotland. The Government have been left in no doubt about the streng1h of feeling. Many signatures have been placed on a petition and numerous representations been made to Ministers. The main reasons for the objections are that the Scottish regiments have excellent recruiting and that despite this it seems that Scotland is to suffer a disproportionate reduction.

Today I hope to explore the Government's timetable. It appears that about three years will elapse before the two Scottish regimental amalgamations will be undertaken. I noted what my noble friend Lord Arran said in the debate on the Address on 4th November. At column 134 of Hansard he said that the amalgamations of the Scottish regiments will be implemented over the next three to four years. Of course if, over that period, we find that we have taken on a large number of commitments … which the Army at its then site cannot meet, we shall clearly have to look again at the decisions that have been taken".

That seems to be a realistic and sensible attitude, as I would expect. I hope that during the period mentioned the Government will bear in mind the considerations which I am about to put forward. I urge them to maintain a continuing assessment of commitments and defence requirements as world events unfold during the next three years.

On Tuesday, the day before yesterday, a Written Answer was published in the other place. In that reply 1994 was confirmed as the year in which the Government propose that the two Scottish amalgamations should take place.

There are informed views, which must be respected, that the proposed reductions will severely overstretch the Army, especially the infantry, in carrying out our present commitments, requiring as they do tours abroad and in Northern Ireland. I refer to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, on 16th October, and also the letter in The Times of 18th October from General Sir Martin Farndale. Both have recently held key defence appointments, one as Chief of the Defence Staff and the other as Commander in Chief in Germany. They doubt whether an Army of 116,000, of which 12,000 men will always be in training, can effectively meet our commitments. I shall not expand now on their warnings.

Comparisons with EC partners of similar size are misleading. We should not try to compete with Germany or France in reductions. Britain is much more likely to have to contribute forces to deal with breaches of the peace or brushfire situations in different parts of the world because of our role in the past. Germany is in any case limited in military action to Europe by a section of the basic law upon which we in the United Kingdom insisted in 1950 when we were anxious to curb military aspirations in the new Germany. I believe that that is now to be changed. Nonetheless, Germany has been, and will be, preoccupied with defence in Europe. The same applies to the other European countries, although I hope that they will contribute increasingly to United Nations forces when they are required.

I must declare interests in speaking on the Scottish regiments. My home is in the regimental home of the Queen's Own Highlanders and one of my sons is in that regiment. He was put down for it at the age of 10—not unusual in Scotland—and joined 12 years later, after Oxford, nearly 20 years ago. I was not myself in one of those infantry regiments, being a gunner. That means that I can speak about them all without being partisan.

Having started in the Army just before World War II, I served for most of it in a Scottish division and for three years commanded a Scottish field battery. In that capacity I worked for weeks at a time with individual battalions from all the regiments under discussion today. My operational place as a battery commander was with a battalion—usually the leading company—often on foot, with the small forward gunner teams carrying radios to control my guns and others some distance behind. At different times I was in various actions during the war with Seaforth and Camerons—now the Queen's Own Highlanders—Gordons, Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borders.

Also in the division was a battalion of Scots Guards in Churchill tanks. Later, when it was decided to take that tank brigade out of the division it continued to be assigned to operate with our division. More than once, I have gone into action with the Scots Guards in a tank provided by the squadron commanded by my noble friend Lord Cathcart, again with my vital radio sets with me. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk intends to speak in the debate. His brother, Lord Michael, also a general, was in the Scots Guards and was for a time in that tank battalion that I have mentioned. I presume that my noble friend will address the subject of the Guards and I can confidently leave that to him.

The Scots Guards are not to lose their name and identity. That is the most painful part of the amalgamations for the other regiments. Let us consider the Royal Scots. They are the first regiment of foot in the whole British Army. South of the Border, where third battalions of English regiments are to be disbanded, the pain is not nearly so acute because the name and the identity are not now affected.

Noble Lords will see that by chance I have been very close to all the Scottish regiments now affected, in action in war. Such is the ubiquitous role of the gunner, that I have also been in similar situations with non-Scottish battalions.

British infantry excel in their adaptability, tact and skill in dealing with local people in areas of tension, as well as with terrorism and difficult communal disturbances. That has been proved over the past 40 years since World War II in different parts of the world. Another outstanding quality is the infantry's dependability in extreme adversity. What is it that keeps groups of ordinary men—not a carefully picked elite—hanging on and fighting back, although exhausted and crippled by casualties, running out of ammunition and supplies, knowing that plans have gone wrong because of enemy successes, outnumbered and surrounded, continuously shelled in atrocious conditions of cold or mud and with no sign of relief? It is the resolve that their regiment will not falter or fail in its allotted tasks. The Scottish regiments have exemplified the qualities required by infantry in extreme conditions of strain and duress.

What has surprised informed observers about the Government's proposals is that little notice appears to have been taken of recruiting and retention. The Scottish regiments have good recent records of recruiting and the soldiers stay in the Army on average for longer—a factor in cost-effectiveness. The highest rate of recruiting per eligible head of population in regimental areas has been achieved by the Queen's Own Highlanders. They are now faced with another amalgamation. The last one was only 30 years ago from two famous regiments—the Seaforth and Camerons. Their regimental area is the size of the whole of Wales and about half of that again will be added by the Gordons' area.

The recruiting situation appears to have been reflected in Operation Granby in the Gulf war. First, I remind the House that the Royal Scots were engaged in the fighting that took place on land and received several awards for gallantry. Mercifully, the casualties in that war were much fewer than we could have expected. However, it will be remembered that nine casualties were reported in the battalion of Royal Fusiliers as a result of friendly fire. A little later we discovered that three of the dead were in fact Queen's Own Highlanders, young men whose homes were near mine in northern Scotland. Virtually the whole battalion of Queen's Own Highlanders was deployed in the Gulf from Germany, not as a unit but in packets, in order to bring other units, including the Royal Fusiliers, up to establishment. We would not have known they were there if there had not been those casualties.

I am reminded of another debate on Scottish regiments in which I took part. That was in another place in July 1968. I wound up that debate as an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on defence. The Argylls and the Scots Greys were at that time destined for disbandment and the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards again destined for disappearance. Two years later, we came into office and I moved from the Shadow Cabinet to the Cabinet. The Argylls' disbandment parade, which had been fixed for a certain date, was cancelled. They and the other regiments in the same slice were reduced to company and squadron strength while we looked into defence requirements. A year later it was possible to restore the position because it was found that more infantry were needed. All the regiments affected in that slice—not just the Argylls—received equal treatment. The three Scottish regiments—the subject of that debate—were all reprieved, the Greys preferring the option of amalgamation with the Carabiniers. Of course, the situation is different today. Nonetheless, I hope that the result of that debate may now augur well for the future.

In a remarkable and unique way, the Scottish regiments have historically helped to unite both Scotland and the United Kingdom. The last battle on British soil was fought at Culloden, four miles from my home. A Colonel Wolfe, on the Hanoverian side, was the general who later won the battle of Quebec. In doing so, he was assisted by the newly formed Highlanders who stormed the Heights of Abraham. A great deal had changed during the intervening 13 years. There are other examples which I shall not go into now.

I do not need to tell my noble friend Lord Arran that there has been dismay in Scotland since July, not least among supporters of the Government. However, they realise that they are unlikely to fare any better with the alternative government. Prominent members of the Labour Party urge greater reductions, and the period from 1967 to 1970, to which I referred, is still remembered. The Scottish National Party is primarily concerned with Scotland and some of the public may look in that direction.

However, I remind noble Lords that at the annual conference of the SNP in 1967 a Motion deploring disbandment of Scottish regiments was defeated by a huge majority. Reasons given by speakers in the debate and reported in the press on the following day were that the regiments had been formed by London governments to hold down the Scots and to build the British Empire. That has been the SNP's traditional and fundamentalist attitude to such matters, but it is totally unrepresentative of Scottish opinion.

In a recent Written Answer the framework of a programme is set out. When my noble friend replies perhaps he will fill in more particulars with regard to the Scottish regiments. Is it intended that the regiments to be amalgamated should be stationed in Britain at the time—that means not in Northern Ireland? Is that proposal in the programme? Is it also planned that the Royal Scots and the KOSB go to Hong Kong in the meantime? Will they be amalgamated in Hong Kong or will they return home before that occurs?

The Government tell us that they will be assessing commitments during the next three years. I hope that if more infantry are required they will not try to convert gunners or sappers. I speak as a gunner. Of course gunners have to be able to act as infantry. The small forward teams of gunners always had to be well trained in small arms to join with the infantry in war in situations where everyone was needed—for example, to repel a counter-attack. I was wounded in such a situation when engaged in infantry fighting. It would be a false economy, however, to try to make gunners and infantry interchangeable. The infantry soldier is an all-rounder, but his training is not as simple now as it used to be. The Royal Artillery is being equipped with very effective new weapons. That is good news. However, special training is needed. The reduced ranks of the gunners will be required to meet the tasks presented by adequately manning their technological hardware.

If while carrying out their continuing assessment the Government find that they need more infantry, I urge them to remember the contribution which the Scottish regiments make and to recognise that they are parting with an asset, which may be intangible, but is of immense value to the country.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, it seems to me that the Scottish regiments are to be cut due to the dictates of the Treasury against the advice of the Army. When one considers that the Army has developed with a specific purpose in mind—the efficient conduct of war—that is worrying, to say the least. In a full scale defence review, we must start by analysing the changing threat, consider Britain's obligations and responsibilities, and finally make a financial judgment about the resources needed to meet them. The latter must be the last step, not the first as this Government seem to believe.

On these Benches we wish to see a peace dividend, but not at the expense of crippling the Army. At preset there is increasingly clear evidence that a reduction in numbers to a fighting force of 116,000 will not enable us to meet our present and prospective obligations. If the Government wish to save money they should consider scrapping the tactical air-to-surface missile programme which, even before construction, is obsolete in purpose due to the changes in Eastern Europe.

On my calculations the projected production costs of £3 billion at the higher end could feasibly release enough money to pay for 20 infantry battalions for 10 years. If infantry battalions are to be cut, it should be the weaker regiments that are cut—those which find it difficult to recruit and have few links with the local community. However, the Scottish regiments are among the best in those respects. They have contributed much to the strength of the Army in the past. That is why my party has been able to give a commitment to save the Gordon Highlanders.

With regard to the peace dividend, one can collect the dividend only if one has peace. As has been demonstrated in the past few years during which the British Army has gone to war twice, we live in uncertain times, especially with regard to the changing situation in Europe. To change the existing Army into a more technically-based army could prove in the long term to be more expensive than keeping an infantry-based army.

I admit to a personal interest in the Army, having recently been commissioned at Sandhurst. I was commissioned into REME which is a corps and not a regiment. In tactics lectures at Sandhurst we learned that the Army relies heavily on flexibility to meet its commitments. The financial constraints imposed on the Army will in the future apply a straitjacket on its ability to act freely. An article in the Daily Telegraph today referred to the situation at Sandhurst. The situation has become desperate. It has run out of blank ammunition. Wooden rattles have to be used to simulate machine-gun fire. During our infantry attack—it was farcical—we undertook flowing movement attacks, yet we used heavy machine-guns with links joining the bullets together. Having fired the machine-guns, we had to stop to pick up the links because none was available. If we required to fire the guns again we had to use those same links.

Financial restraints on a larger scale will force our hand. When one considers our future and perhaps growing commitments they will make it difficult for us to act. The growing pressure can be seen in Northern Ireland. As the situation becomes more unstable the natural reaction will be to send more troops. That will put manpower constraints on other areas. We have instability in Eastern Europe, and in Yugoslavia. The proposed peace-keeping forces will need manpower from somewhere.

It is difficult to understand the financial cuts when one considers that the reappraisal of our position in Europe has not been fully justified politically. We are still negotiating with our political allies. We must re-evaluate the Army's position after such negotiation.

I wish to digress a little from the subject of the Scottish regiments. If the Army is to be cut—and the cuts in the Scottish regiments are but one aspect—there will be a growing commitment for the Territorial Army to be used. I should like the role of the Territorial Army to be fully explained. If the Army is forced into another Gulf situation, the Territorial Army might have to be used. At present the Territorial Army is suffering financial constraints. It is allowed to train only 35 days a year. The level of experience might make members unsuitable for the task.

When cuts in the Territorial Army are proposed, I should like the Government to consider the workings of the Queen's Order. The Queen's Order is the method by which the Territorial Army is called up. If that army is to be used, much groundwork needs to be done with regard to protection of the jobs of members of the Territorial Army and recompense for their employers.

The timetable for the cuts in the Scottish regiments has not been totally expressed. I hope that our future commitments will be fully evaluated before the regiments are cut and it is then found that there are not enough troops to carry out the tasks we hope to perform.

5.20 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, on 16th October in the debate on the defence estimates I spoke at some length on the defence cuts in general and the incidence of these on the Scottish regiments in particular. I declare an interest in so far as I live in the recruiting area of the Gordon Highlanders and members of my family have served in that fine regiment.

I shall not repeat what I said then, with one exception. It was made plain when cuts in the Army were considered that those regiments with a good recruiting record and low wastage would be retained in preference to those which had difficulty in maintaining their strength. Why then have four Scottish regiments to which both those criteria apply been selected to be halved instead of others which have difficulty recruiting and where wastage is high, some of which have one battalion? That does not make economic sense for wastage is very expensive. The noble Earl did not really answer that question on 16th October so I am asking it again.

What I want to ask the Government this evening is to initiate immediately a thorough review of the defence of this country and of our military commitments worldwide or to give an assurance that the Select Committee on Defence in another place, sitting now, will do just that, so that as the world situation changes there will be a realistic basis on which future requirements may be assessed.

The prospect of the amalgamations of the King's Own Scottish Borderers with the Royal Scots and the Gordon Highlanders with the Queen's Own and of the so-called suspension of the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards is affecting the morale of those regiments. Uncertainty about their future careers will most adversely affect the older men, NCOs and Officers for whom service in the Army is their chosen career and not just a short-term job or a stepping stone to another career. Inevitably they will be looking to safeguard their future and that of their families and cannot afford to let slip any opportunity of starting a new career which may present itself between now and 1993 or 1994.

Apart from that, planning for the suspension or amalgamations will have to start no later than next year. If as a result of a defence review it were to become apparent that the proposed suspension and amalgamations should not go ahead, it could well be difficult or impossible to return to the status quo if a number of the more senior and experienced personnel had already left or arranged to do so. That has happened before and could happen again. Therefore, a thorough review of our defence requirement is of considerable urgency.

5.23 p.m.

The Duke of Norfolk

My Lords, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for tabling this Unstarred Question on the future programme for Scottish regiments including the Scots Guards. I wish to deal with the proposed plan for reorganising so many infantry regiments. I understand that there has been no in-depth analysis of the Army's ability to carry out its proposed commitment. The Government are shamefully advocating cuts in its strength which will leave it 10,000 men below the requirement.

I turn, first, to the Household Division. It is proposed to put the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards—my own regiment—2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards and 2nd Battalion Scots Guards into suspended animation. It is a well-known and incontrovertible fact that in the Brigade of Guards we must always balance our London duties with our full share of the operational role, whether overseas in the Rhine Army or elsewhere. Our battle honours added to our Colours in World War II bear witness to our pride in being rated eminent among other brother infantry battalions. We must never allow the pomp and circumstance image of our activities in London District to predominate.

It is universally agreed that the Household Division provides the finest pageantry in the world. A recent London Tourist Board report estimates that we contribute between £500 million and £1 billion to tourist revenue per annum. At present we are squeezed to carry out these functions with eight battalions. It would be utterly impossible for us to be reduced to five by placing the three 2nd battalions in suspended animation. We would then have only two battalions overseas and attempt to perform London duties with the three remaining battalions. We would have to discontinue the Tower Guard, which 2 million tourists visit each year. The Queen's Birthday Parade would have to be reduced by 400 guardsmen, which of course would make it a much less glamorous spectacle. I understand that the Household Brigade arms plot might mean that a battalion would serve more than eight years in London District. That is totally unacceptable and wholly undesirable. I have commanded a battalion in London District and know that one year, two at the most, is enough.

I now turn to the Household Cavalry. Your Lordships may have read the letter written by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to The Times earlier this summer. It set out clearly the present neat and tight balance in the strengths of the three regiments of the Household Cavalry. The Life Guards are an armoured regiment in Rhine Army. The Blues and Royals are an armoured reconnaissance regiment at Combermere Barracks in Windsor. It is found that 40 per cent. of the troopers joining those two regiments can be persuaded to volunteer to join the mounted regiment in London. One cannot order people to ride horses. If one does they merely mount the horse on one side and fall off the other. It must be a desire that they wish to have kindled by the regiment.

The mounted regiment in London consists of a squadron of the Life Guards and a squadron of the Blues and Royals. The Ministry of Defence proposes to form a union of the two Household Cavalry regiments, making four squadrons; that is, two from each regiment. That would make it impossible to maintain the mounted regiment at present strength and efficiency. The best plan would be to keep the present two Household Cavalry regiments, one in Germany and the other at Windsor, and make both armoured reconnaissance regiments so that they could interchange between the overseas posting and Windsor. That would grant the wish of the Ministry of Defence to have one further armoured reconnaissance regiment.

After much thought and consultation with many officers, some very senior, I offer the following possible solutions to the Government. Naturally I have an enduring admiration for the Royal Air Force. During World War II I was often supported by tactical air forces, by fighter commands and even bomber commands at Caen. How right we are to bring forward the provision of European fighter aircraft to enhance its present capacity. However, I cannot see how three battalions of the RAF Regiment can be justified in the present climate. They were only created in the last war and their present function can surely be carried out by normal infantry battalions.

Secondly, I challenge the wisdom of retaining two Gurkha battalions in the United Kingdom order of battle. I fought alongside the Gurkhas of the 8th Indian Division when I was in 4th Armoured Brigade at the crossing of the River Sangro in Italy. I am full of admiration for their bravery. As your Lordships know, by night they are particularly fearsome. However, the Gurkhas cannot be employed in Northern Ireland, nor were they used in the recent Gulf war. After 1997 there will be no place for the Gurkhas in Hong Kong. We should cease employing Gurkhas as part of the British Army. But let us offer to help the Gurkha battalion with the Sultan of Brunei, which I have seen when I have been there on banking tours, and those in the Kingdom of Nepal. We can offer training assistance and courses in England and perhaps we can send out an infantry battalion or smaller unit to train in Nepal. We should keep our long historical liaison with the Gurkhas and the Kingdom of Nepal. However, I see no place for them in the order of battle after we have given up Hong Kong.

Thirdly, I cannot think it wise to keep as many as three battalions of the Parachute Regiment. It may be that two would now suffice. Finally, as a suggestion, I wonder whether we need as many as three commando battalions of the Royal Marines.

I note that the timetable published last Tuesday does lot begin seriously until mid-1992 so there is time for the Secretary of State to digest those simple and self-evident enduring truths and amend his programme. When the noble Earl replies I hope that he will bear in mind that there is considerable disquiet on this subject among these normally loyal Back Benchers.

5.33 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, although I am not a Scotsman and I only received part of my education in Scotland, I have a certain deal of sympathy with the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, as many Scottish battalions served under my great uncle in the First World War. I had the honour of serving for two years with the Gordons in Malaya some 20 years ago.

As the amalgamation of the Queen's Own Highlanders with the Gordon Highlanders and the Royal Scots with the King's Own Scottish Borderers is now planned for 1994, there is a distinct feeling within the Army that it may never happen. That is so for two reasons: first, there could be a change of government and with that, a change of heart; secondly, as the tail end of the reduction is reached the Government, despite being told often enough, will find that there are not enough infantry battalions to meet all the commitments which currently exist.

I found it distressing to read in the Sunday Times on 10th November that the Government plan to buy a sub-strategic nuclear missile called TASM at a cost of more than £2.5 billion. The report, if correct, goes on to state that it is not clear just who Britain plans to attack with such a nuclear weapon and under what circumstances. I find that particularly galling when one knows all too well that for a lesser sum of money we could preserve regular Scottish infantry battalions which carry out an excellent job. We need to preserve them.

This evening, I wish to restrict my comments to the Territorial Army in Scotland. The effects of the options for change as regards the Territorial Army are still under discussion and the final decisions have yet to be made. Unlike the regular Army, where both jobs and housing are the principal anxieties during the rundown, in the Territorial Army if a battalion or company is to disband, the volunteer quickly loses interest and the cohesion of the unit is lost.

In Scotland the TA reorganisation appears both logical and rational. However, the loss of some 1,200 posts in Edinburgh and Glasgow, including the 15th Parachute Battalion, except for one element appears particularly harsh. I wonder whether the Minister is prepared to assure the House that when a decision is finally agreed, the implementation will follow quickly and will not be delayed due to lack of funds or further indecision, otherwise volunteers will leave and not return.

Generally, TA battalions in Scotland are to be reduced from four or five companies to three companies and a headquarter company. It is most disturbing to learn that 21 per cent. of the new establishment is to he made up of regular reservists. If the battalion is not up to strength, that percentage will increase.

The problem which will face commanding officers in the future is how they will get the regular reservists in to train other than on the one mandatory day per year when they must have their kit checked and their fitness assessed by the medical officer. That is all part of the mechanism of the calling in and training of reserves. No commanding officer can expect to train his soldiers efficiently unless a high proportion of his TA soldiers come in. I hope very much that the number of regular reservists will be much reduced in TA battalions and that the current study being undertaken will be acted upon. If, as I believe, the law must be changed then I hope that parliamentary time will be made available for that to happen.

I must express anxiety also about the new infantry TA battalions in Scotland. There is a belief that those battalions committed to the RRC and general reserve will not receive the support weapons—both milan and mortars—with which they need to train in order to carry out their role effectively. I very much hope that the battalions will receive the equipment which they need to train and they will not have to resort to flags and rattles or—should I say? —pikes, staves and bagpipes.

If Britain is to continue to play a leading role in NATO and to be the backbone of the RRC, its strength must be credible and its forces properly equipped. The servicemen from Scotland are the best quality men and women which we have anywhere in Britain. They are the bravest and most dedicated and the best recruited. They are our security and deserve our strongest support either as regulars, reservists or volunteers while they are in uniform and serving the nation.

5.39 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy on his magnificent speech. He has had considerable experience of the Armed Forces. I have not had very great experience. I went into the Army because when I was at Oxford my father, quite rightly, thought that I would spend most of my time hunting. Therefore, I was shipped off—I am not sure if that is the right word—to the Black Watch depot where I was extremely fortunate. I must say that I greatly enjoyed myself at the depot and did all the necessary things that one had to do there.

I then found myself in not such a pleasant place, the St. Mary Hill barracks in Glasgow. It must have been one of the oldest and worst barracks in the British Army; it has now been pulled down. However, I enjoyed that experience.

I was in the Black Watch. Though the Black Watch is the senior Highland regiment, much of its recruitment in those days came from the factories and especially from the jute mills in Dundee. The Jocks were small men. They were not like the Highlanders. A lot of our NCOs were tall but the Jocks were small; but by heavens they were tough. The Germans in the First World War used to call the Highlanders, "The women from Hell". However, it would be right to call the Black Watch Jocks, with whom I was fortunate enough to serve, "The women from Hell". The reason for that name was of course because they wore kilts.

It is appalling that the Secretary of State decreed on 1st July—although I hope that it will not be carried out—that four regiments of the Highland Brigade are to be amalgamated. It is terrible that the Queen's Own Highlanders are to be amalgamated. The Seaforth Highlanders were amalgamated, I believe, in 1960, so it has happened before. I hope it does not happen again.

The Highlanders have always had fame in the British Army as being tremendous soldiers. They have probably fought in more wars than there are letters in the alphabet. However, I hope that the Secretary of State will change his mind and will not carry forward the amalgamations.

In this time of high unemployment it is foolish of the Government to allow the Secretary of State for Defence to amalgamate the regiments. It will mean throwing people onto the labour market and will cause a great deal of unemployment. As noble Lords are aware, at this time we are not popular in Scotland in that regard. Unemployment is hard on many Jocks in Scotland, especially in the north where it is not easy to find work. I can only say that I hope that that will not come to pass.

I have not told your Lordships much about the Army. As I was always a junior officer I have not had tremendous experience in the Army. I have had experience in other spheres but my experience in the Army was only for three or four years. I hope that I have not detained your Lordships for too long.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Wedgwood

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for giving me the opportunity to speak on this subject today. As a past regular soldier in the Royal Scots, I can declare an interest.

Along with a growing multitude of people I am convinced that by the summer of 1994 the inequities to Scotland on the proposed amalgamations will be corrected. The recent request from the King's Regiment, (which belongs to the unscathed King's Division) for support from the Scottish Division during its next tour in Northern Ireland is a strong signal that we need more Scottish soldiers, not less.

Yesterday I attended the defence Select Committee in another place and heard that there are options in the Options for Change. Proposed amalgamations are geared over a period of several years so corrections and changes can be made. In view of the request from the King's Regiment, perhaps corrections should be implemented soon.

Yesterday, in the same committee in another place I heard that the strategy for proposed amalgamations was based on recruiting. I must ask how that is justified for the Scottish Division—maybe it is a special case. The subject of recruiting has been well addressed in the debate. However, I must add another aspect—the potential. It is thought that one of the criteria for recruitment was population. Are we aware that more Scotsmen per capita take the Queen's shilling than in any other area of the country? Surely we should give Scotland better treatment, not worse.

The training of our future officers will be as important as ever, and more so in an Army that requires greater flexibility. A good yardstick of the quality and professionalism of a regiment is often geared by the amount of staff representation at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. The Scottish Division is better represented in all areas of training except perhaps one—drill—where we defer to the experts, including in my case the poor soul who was responsible for my performance at Sandhurst. He was of course a Scots Guardsman.

Sadly, the effects of these uninitiated proposals are already taking their toll. Our future military leaders are indicating by open choice, as they always have, that they are going for regiments with a certain future. I heard it rumoured that the Secretary of State for Defence considers that the Army in Scotland will be greater following the amalgamations than before. His argument about labelling various artillery regiments as Scottish cuts no ice. Gunners join the Royal Regiment of Artillery not the Scottish artillery, and the level of their representation will remain the same as before. Regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (which is half Welsh) and the 4th Regiment of the Royal Tank Regiment, add nothing to this particular equation.

It was recently reported in the press as an argument for the inequities of the proposed amalgamations, that anyway the Scottish regiments have been amalgamated umpteen times in the past. In over 350 years of loyal service, the Royal Scots have never been amalgamated or merged or whatever and neither have the King's Own Scottish Borderers. This arranged marriage was uncalled for and unwarranted. I was appalled to learn that these fine and well-recruited regiments were never even consulted about the proposals.

I will say again in this House that the officers and soldiers of these great regiments have agreed under loyal oath not to express their views publicly, but in private they feel immense betrayal. It is time for the Secretary of State for Defence to admit that the Scottish Division is a special case and before any more damage is done he should exercise his options in Options for Change. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy mentioned earlier, it is worth remembering that in these unstable and potentially dangerous times, Scottish regiments have in the past helped save the Union. If the by-election in Kincardine and Deeside last week is any indication, these great regiments may be required again.

5.52 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for putting down this Unstarred Question. The turnout on a Thursday at this time is an indication of just how strong feelings are on this subject. Personally, I have no intention of becoming an amateur strategist in company such as we have here tonight. There are many experts present. From the speech that I have heard and from my knowledge of him, I do not believe that anyone has any greater knowledge than the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who raised the subject.

However, no one could be anything but anxious at the very great uncertainties that the Government have managed to create in dealing with the Scottish part of the defence review. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and others, referred to the reply given the other evening by Mr. Archie Hamilton, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. For the first time an absolute indication was given of how the regiments would amalgamate, which regiments would cease to exist or be put in abeyance. We discovered that it will be 1994 before positive action will be taken concerning the Scottish regiments. However, I hope that the army is sufficiently concerned for its men that there will be much planning taking place concerning what may happen about family housing for those soldiers who may be made redundant and that some training will be available to help them in to civilian jobs.

Mr. Hamilton puts the Scottish changes into 1994. I can hardly believe that responsible Ministers did not know the date and were unable to be privy to the thinking of the Ministry of Defence. They prevaricated and spoke with many voices which caused quite unnecessary confusion. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Ian Lang, and the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, who is now the Secretary of State for Transport, clearly suggested—and this is the difficulty—that the plan for a merger between two of the Scottish regiments would be positively reviewed. That was strongly implied in The Times of 2nd November. They were the two regiments which were mentioned in the Kincardine and Deeside by-election.

Mr. Hamilton, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, said that "a lot could change" between now and the planned mergers of 1993–94. That was said in the run-up to the by-election in Kincardine and Deeside. Noble Lords may be aware that we were to have a candidate there whose slogan was to be "Save the Gordons". Somehow or other it appeared that some tacit understanding was reached with the group of people who were intending to put up such a candidate which persuaded them to think again.

As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, a very large petition containing 800,000 signatures was presented to another place on 16th October. In a debate in your Lordships' House the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, said that the Scottish regiments felt betrayed. The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, said that there was a feeling of betrayal in some of the Scottish regiments. In our debate, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said that the Treasury was at the bottom of the changes which were finance-led rather than defence-led.

Rather unusually, I wish to put up a plea for the Secretary of State for Defence whom I knew very well in the other place. He is one of the most conscientious Members. I disagreed with him on very many things. I sat with him on committees for very long periods. I believe that he is perfectly clear in his own mind that he examined the matter very fully and that he did the best he could with the decisions that he had to make. If one returns to what he said at the Conservative Party Conference, one will get an idea of the quality of the man. For all my disagreement with him, I believe that he is a man of great courage, strength of character and with a strong sense of duty.

A lobby at the Conservative Conference, led by Lieutenant General John MacMillan, who is the most senior recently retired general officer commanding Scotland, protested at the plans which would lead to the demise of some of Scotland's most famous regiments. I am referring to the Guardian of 11th October. That states: Mr. King argued that change had to come. Britain could not go on as before, when there were now two million fewer people facing us as adversaries in the Warsaw Pact. He sought to reassure by pointing out that Britain's reduction of 21 per cent. were less than those of several of our allies". Mr. King said: What people want to know is where they stand. That's why we haven't ducked it;"— I would not expect Tom King to do that— that is why we didn't pretend it wouldn't happen. Of course, I know it's politically inconvenient to face up to it now, but we have put our duty to our servicemen first". I believe that to be a perfectly reasonable and understanding attitude on the part of the Minister of Defence. He works out with his experts what he believes must be done. Whether the issue is Treasury-led or by common sense and the fact that the world has changed is less important. The fact is that the Minister made a decision with all the knowledge that he had.

The noble Viscount, Lord Allenby of Megiddo, made a suggestion which I notice was also referred to obliquely in the Daily Telegraph of 23rd October. With this quotation I shall finish: Defence ministers have assured Scottish Tories—furious about the merger of famous Scottish regiments—that their outfits will not lose their cap badges until the summer of 1994. Then the Queen's Own Highlanders will link up with the Gordon Highlanders and the Royal Scots with the King's Own Scottish Borderers. The delay, of course, could allow the electorate some say in their fate". And as the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, has also suggested today: A Labour government might just reprieve them at the expense of the fourth Trident submarine or fewer Tornados. Should Labour reverse the Scottish cuts, defence boffins believe it will serve the Tories right. 'The Government could not have timed the cuts worse', says one. 'The whole plan has been scuppered by their dithering over the election. All these announcements, you see, were supposed to take place after the election, in the early days of the new Tory government"'. I am very pleased that someone of the calibre of Tom King, the Secretary of State, decided that it had to be done and that the election was an irrelevance.

6.1 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that the timetable for implementing changes in the Army's regimental structure, part of our programme for Defence in the 90s was announced in another place last Monday.

I shall attempt to address most of my remarks this evening to the situation on the Scottish regiments, as opposed to the whole defence debate in general, since think your Lordships will agree that we have debated the matter two or three times in the past two or three weeks. Although I shall attempt to pick up some of the questions which noble Lords have raised I shall make most of the points concerning Scottish regiments. The changes will be phased in gradually over a period of four years. As far as Scottish Infantry is concerned, it is planned that the amalgamation of both the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers and of the Gordons and the Queen's Own Highlanders, will take place in 1994. In the case of the Gordon Highlanders, this timing will allow the regiment's bicentenary to be celebrated before amalgamation with the Queens's Own Highlanders. In the Royal Armoured Corps, the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, recruited from Scotland, will amalgamate with the 1st Royal Tank Regiment in 1993.

It is important to view these changes in the wider context of the very far-reaching changes in Eastern Europe and the consequential effect upon the size of the future Armed Forces of the NATO and other allied nations—a point to which my noble friend Lord Campbell referred. Your Lordships will be well aware of events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which have led us and our NATO allies to restructure our Armed Forces. We are all agreed that we need to restructure in a prudent fashion: we still live in an uncertain world. The development of ideas on the future size and shape of the Army has therefore been approached with suitable caution and in consultation with our NATO allies. The alliance is in agreement that we need to maintain flexible and effective forces. But it is the consensus of the alliance that it would not be appropriate to maintain forces at present levels. All nations of the alliance understand the need to reduce the size of their forces. And once again I have to make it quite clear that our reductions were based on our strategic requirements, not —I repeat, not—for financial reasons. The reduction in the British Army will be considerable. Indeed it is of a magnitude which does not make it possible to meet the wishes of all those who are anxious about the future of particular regiments or other units.

Nevertheless, we have paid particular attention to regimental anxieties—whether the regiments be Scottish, Irish, English or Welsh. I can assure you that our decisions have not been taken lightly, nor without heartache. They have been taken with care and consideration. No regiment wishes to lose its cherished identity and there is not a regiment in the British Army which would not provide a compelling case for its retention. That is part of the strength of our system. I am not blind to the fact that our decisions have been met with considerable disappointment, but unless we deny the need for any response to the events of the past three years, that was inevitable. Your Lordships will know that amalgamations are not new and that the regimental system has always evolved and never remained static. Change is as much part of the tradition as is continuity. New regiments arise; but if the will is there, they will preserve within them the identities, the loyalties and affiliations of the old.

I recognise the depth of feeling among those associated with the Scottish regiments and the degree of support they receive from the local community. These affiliations will be the backbone of the new regiments.

I must at this point be quite clear. Scotland has not been singled out to bear a disproportionate share of the reductions. Despite the understandable sadness, the fact is that the proportion of Scottish units in the Army as a whole will increase rather than decrease. Four of the other five Infantry Divisions will be reduced by a greater percentage than the Scottish Division. Although the Scottish infantry will represent broadly the same proportion of the infantry as a whole as they do now, the Royal Armoured Corps Scottish representation will increase. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards remain unaffected and there will continue to be a Scottish presence in the amalgamated 1st and 4th Royal Tank Regiment. In much the same way none of the three Scottish artillery regiments will be affected. The 19 and 40 Field Regiments and the 16 Air Defence Regiment will continue as before. In short, Scottish units will provide a bigger share of armour and artillery—to dispute the point that my noble friend Lord Wedgwood has made.

Turning to the timetable in general, while the overall driving force behind it was an operational necessity, wherever possible we have tried to accommodate the wishes of regiments themselves. As I have already said, by amalgamating in 1994, the Gordons will be able to celebrate their bicentenary.

I should now like briefly to pick up some of the important points made by your Lordships this evening. I shall take first the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy about when amalgamations will take place. Although it is not our policy to comment on future deployments of individual regiments, it is planned that both amalgamations will take place in the United Kingdom. As regards recruiting—which again my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy mentioned, as did the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun—the past and present recruitment patterns was just one of the many factors which the Army board considered in coming to their conclusions. The board also considered future recruitment predictions, past amalgamations and the need to maintain appropriate regional representation across the country. These and many other factors relating to individual regiments had to be balanced by the board with the needs of the Army as a whole when coming to their decisions.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, asked about a defence review. We have carried out a comprehensive review of our commitments in the light of enormous changes in the European security situation. There is no need for further review. I can say from my visits to military establishments that I have detected a very clear determination among our servicemen and women to help ensure that the reductions in the Armed Forces are implemented quickly and successfully It is now important for the well-being of all servicemen and women that we do just that.

It is not helpful to regiments to attempt to prolong this debate. That only gives false hope and continuing uncertainty which could be very damaging to the welfare of those currently serving and to the future of the new regiments.

My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk was concerned about the Household Cavalry. The structure of the combined regiment will mean that the Household Cavalry mounted regiment will be made up, as it is now, of two sabre squadrons, one from each cap badge, plus a jointly manned headquarters squadron. The Household Cavalry reconnaissance regiment will be one of two regular reconnaissance regiments. It will consist of four reconnaissance squadrons, two of each cap badge, plus a jointly manned headquarters squadron.

Each of the present cavalry regiments will have three squadrons, two of which will be in armoured reconnaissance and one in a mounted role at any one time. A second regular reconnaissance regiment will be formed through the amalgamation of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars and the 15th/19th King's Royal Hussars. The regiment will act in support of the ARRC and he based in Germany, and the order of batty identical to the Household Cavalry reconnaissance regiment with which it will exchange roles and station on arms plot moves. Two regiments will reduce from a total of eight sabre squadrons to six in line with reduced operational requirements. The corps TA reconnaissance regiment role is in support of the corps commander of the ARRC. It will consist of four reconnaissance squadrons and a headquarters squadron.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, referred to the Territorial Army, which I know is an important subject in your Lordships' House. Since decisions have yet to he taken, as the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, is perfectly aware, we are not in a position at this stage to comment specifically on its future role or on individual units. I can assure the House, however, that the essential role of the reserve forces will be maintained in our new force structure and consultations are going on at present with the TAVR associations. We hope to be able to make an announcement before the end of the year on the way ahead for the TA.

In drawing to a close, I must emphasise that the decisions we have taken are firm and final. We will need to reconsider our decisions only if there are major changes in future commitments which require additional long-term deployment. It would he misleading to those concerned if we were to suggest otherwise. In the years to come I am sure we will feel equal pride in the regiments which have risen from the old and which are the successors to traditions that will not be lost but will evolve. On many occasions the British Army has shown that it can adapt successfully to change and we have absolute confidence in its ability to make a grand success of the new structure.