§ 3 p.m.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ How they justify the 37. per cent. cut in the Household Division, compared with a 20 per cent. 1227 cut in the rest of the Army, in the light of the Household Division's important operational and ceremonial duties.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, the decision was based on a whole range of criteria, some of which were published in Britain's Army for the '90s. We have always made clear our intention not to comment on individual units. We are, however, entirely confident that the revised strength of the Household Division will be commensurate with its commitments, both operational and ceremonial.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I wonder whether he recognises that pageantry and ceremonial duties top the list of the reasons why people visit this country—97 per cent., by the way, to this capital—and how important a role the Household Division plays in the £5.2 billion spent by those people when they visit this capital. Far more important, with the Welsh Guards in Northern Ireland, the Grenadier Guards just returned from there and the Coldstream Guards just returned from Bosnia, all operational roles and their prime duty, does the Minister consider that possibly it would be wise to decrease the amount of ceremonial and state duties or suspend or repeal completely the cutbacks in the Household Division?
My Lords, I willingly associate myself with the noble Lord's remarks about the remarkable contribution which the pageantry of ceremonial duties makes to tourism. I certainly underline the point he made about the primary function of the Household Division being that of operational soldiers. Some with a prejudice in favour of the Brigade of Guards would say that they were the best in the world, although it would not be for me to judge that kind of thing. That is precisely why we added what is known as an increment of 300 posts in order to ensure that adequate provision was made for the ceremonial duties in spite of the reductions that have unfortunately in some senses been necessary for the pageantry to which the noble Lord referred.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, it may be slightly wide of the Question but, with your Lordships' leave, I should like to take this opportunity, as defence spokesman for my party in this House, to say that I was privileged to attend the events in Normandy commemorating D-Day. The events themselves were very moving, as your Lordships will imagine, but the organisation, if I may say so, was quite superb. Ministerial responsibility for that organisation lay with the noble Viscount opposite. He can be proud of his work and I should like to offer him my warmest and most sincere congratulations.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, having said that, normal hostilities will now resume. Is the noble Viscount seriously saying that there has been an 1228 in-depth study of the Household Division's responsibili-ties and that, as a result of that, and not as a result of anything the Treasury may have said, the cuts have been substantially justified?
My Lords, I am greatly touched by the tribute paid by the noble Lord, to whom perhaps I may be allowed for once in my life to refer as my noble friend. But I shall resume normal service, like him, almost immediately. Perhaps I may also, with your Lordships' permission, pay my own tribute to the people who really did the work—the men and women of the three armed services, who made for such a moving few days last weekend. I am deeply grateful to them, as I think the nation should be as well.
My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord's supplementary question is yes. Full consultation has occurred between particularly the Household Division and the Ministry of Defence in considering what the new ceremonial arrangements will be as a result of Options for Change. We are satisfied that those will be sustainable, although we shall of course keep this under careful review should that not turn out to be the case.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, as a so-called veteran, perhaps I may add my warmest congratulations to the noble Viscount on the outstanding success of the arrangements, both in the United Kingdom and in Normandy. I think all noble Lords will agree that the tone and the dignity were absolutely right. As Minister responsible, he deserves all the credit for that operation.
Does the noble Viscount at least share my dismay, as a non-Guardsman, that it has been found necessary at a time like this to do away with the second battalions of these historic, famous and most effective regiments— the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards and the Scots Guards —and indeed, overall, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, pointed out, to cut Her Majesty's Brigade of Guards far more than the rest of the infantry, with the exception of the Brigade of Gurkhas? Does he not also agree that cutting a second battalion is in itself a retrograde step because, quite apart from the difficulties of handling London duties with all the other things they have to do, if the infantry regimental system is to survive as a viable force, as we all hope it will be, the regiments must be larger with more than one battalion? If a battalion is sent on active service and deployed, it can be quickly reinforced to war strength from soldiers wearing the same cap badge and reacting and responding to the same ethos. The Coldstream Guards who were recently able to draw on that second battalion have been a really good example of that in Bosnia.
My Lords, I am embarrassed by the lack of time still available to me. Perhaps I may very briefly answer the noble and gallant Lord. His contribution is one for which I am immensely grateful and one without which the success would not have been possible. With regard to the rest of his question, I regret as much as anyone else any attack on Guards' 1229 regiments, regiments with which my family has certainly been associated for many years. I hope he will accept that we will keep under review the new arrangements in case they are not as sustainable as we believe them to be.