HL Deb 16 December 2004 vol 667 cc1423-5

11.15 a.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the future of the Scottish regiments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, the House will know that there will be an announcement in another place this afternoon on how the Army, including the Infantry, should be restructured to reflect the strategic priorities of today's world. Without intending any discourtesy at all to the noble Lord, he with his great parliamentary experience will know that I cannot pre-empt that announcement. I will, of course, repeat the Secretary of State's Statement and attempt to answer your Lordships' questions in a few hours' time.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, while I appreciate the noble Lord's difficulties, the Statement is long overdue. Does he realise that in the fine history of the British Infantry this is a very black day indeed? Does he realise that this matter is causing fury everywhere, and particularly in Scotland? If the rumours are right that we shall lose four battalions, and 19 others will be affected, how can the noble Lord possibly justify that at a time of gross over-commitment and the rise in terrorism?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I of course understand the noble Lord's strong feelings, and the strong feelings of other noble Lords, on this matter. I respect those greatly. However, the wider transformation of the Army that will be announced later today, and which I believe was mentioned by the Chief of the General Staff on the "Today" programme this morning—the noble Lord may have heard that—goes much wider than the Infantry and much wider than the Scottish Infantry. While I absolutely understand and respect the noble Lord's concerns, I hope that he will be patient and wait until I repeat the Secretary of State's Statement in two hours' time.

Viscount Tenby

My Lords, without prejudging the Statement to be made later today, is the noble Lord in a position to tell the House in general terms what the recruitment record of the six Scottish regiments has been in recent years compared with the recruitment record of some regiments which are rumoured to be for the axe?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Viscount the precise figures at this stage save to say that there has been something of a recruitment problem with the Scottish regiments.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld

My Lords, does my noble friend accept from me that the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, have a great deal of validity and that there is a lot of concern in Scotland? However, does he further accept from me that there is respect in Scotland for the professionalism and the excellence with which the Armed Forces pursue their duties, and that what comes out of today's Statement must be an expression of the need to reinforce that professionalism in order that they may discharge the very difficult tasks which we as a nation set for them?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He knows that the respect he feels for the British Armed Forces is shared unanimously in this House. I am sure that will come across when we discuss the Statement being made in another place.

Lord Garden

My Lords, when we discuss that Statement will the Minister help us by telling us what the gap between operational tours has been for the Scottish regiments—say over the past five years—as compared with the desirable target of 24 months?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for giving me advance warning of a question I might face in two hours' time.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, the Minister mentioned a recruitment problem in Scotland. Does he agree that part of that problem was caused by the MoD putting a freeze on recruitment earlier this year?

Lord Bach

No, my Lords, I do not agree.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, despite defence being a reserved matter, should not the United Kingdom Government have formally consulted the Scottish Parliament about the proposed changes to the Scottish natural heritage?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I do not know what consultation did or did not take place with the Scottish Parliament. I know that a great deal of consultation has taken place with the Scottish regiments, which may be the ones affected.