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Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): In the heartland of the British Army around Salisbury plain, of all places, the Secretary of State has just buried 300 years of regimental history. If he is re-elected to his constituency after the next general election, which may be unlikely, and if I too am re-electedwhich is more likely, following today's statementwill he come to Salisbury at noon on the day after the election to see me sing the marching song of the Wiltshire regiment to celebrate the re-election of a Conservative Member?
Mr. Hoon: I doubt whether I will be celebrating any such thing, but I am certainly perfectly willing to join the hon. Gentleman and to discuss these changes, which have been approved and agreed by the Army itself.
Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab):
On behalf of my constituents in Calder Valley and those in Halifaxespecially those currently serving in the Duke of Wellington Regiment in Iraqmay I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to form a Yorkshire regiment from the three current regiments? Although the Dukes are currently in Basra, they are very aware of the battle raging at home over their future and that of other regiments, which has made matters extremely difficult for them as they serve in an area of conflict. My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that it is important that the Army be structured and equipped in such a way that it is flexible and can deploy rapidly, but I am very pleased that he has found a way of enabling that to happen without throwing out the baby with the bath water, allowing the Duke of Wellington Regiment's links and traditions to remain.
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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What is important is that we preserve, as I have made clear today, the strong regional identities that are so important to the modern British Army. A Yorkshire regiment will continue that very strong tradition.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): The Secretary of State's statement will have been greeted with utter dismay by the soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment and the entire population of Cheshire, who take deep pride in their county's close attachment to the regiment. Does he realise that there is much doubt about whether it is possible to generate the same loyalty and connection through simply a cap badge? In the past, recruitment to the Cheshire Regiment has always been successful because the soldiers knew that they belonged to their county, and they had a loyalty based on identification and support. I hope that the Secretary of State will now admit that today's statement was a gross error of judgment and understanding.
Mr. Hoon: Instead of dealing in rhetoric, the hon. Gentleman should deal in the facts, which are that the Cheshires will still recruit from an identifiable area, they will still have an identifiable name and they will be part of a multi-battalion regiment. That practice is wholly consistent with the rest of the Army, and it has already been adopted by about half the infantry battalions. Indeed, the Army has persistently and consistently recommended for a very long time that it be organised in accordance with that practice. I can assure the House that the views that the Army has taken into account are those of serving soldiers, rather than those of retired soldiers or people such as the hon. Gentleman, who was perhaps speaking for the benefit of his local newspaper.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend will recognise, we all have strong attachments to our local regiments. Over the years, many regiments have gone, such as the East Lancashire Regiment, which had a particular connection with Burnley and that part of county. Indeed, when I was doing my national service in the Royal Marines in the 1950s, we expected the Royal Marines to go. Is it not a fact that my right hon. Friend has taken note as far as possible of local traditions and names, while at the same time ensuring that our Army is able to meet present and future requirements? I wish the new King's, Lancashire and Border regiment well in the years ahead.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This detailed process was conducted in the first place by the Army, which took account of its regional organisations and listened carefully to their recommendations. That was particularly true so far as Lancashire was concerned. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Army's views on this issue have been uppermost in my mind in reaching the decisions that I have taken.
Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP):
The Defence Secretary has announced today the end of the entire Scottish regimental system. As the MP for Perth, where the Black Watch has its regimental headquarters, I am amazed at his gall. The Black Watch has just returned home from the front line in Iraq, where it was sent because it was indispensable to the US army. Why,
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then, is the Black Watch not indispensable to this Government? Surely this is a massive betrayal of our brave soldiers, whose bravery can be contrasted with the Defence Secretary, who is nothing but a back-stabbing coward.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady would be advised to take my advice without qualification and not compound her error. Will she now obey my instructions? Otherwise, serious consequences will follow.
The hon. Member, having used a grossly disorderly expression, was ordered by Mr Deputy Speaker to withdraw the same, but she declined to comply with the direction; whereupon Mr Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order No.43 (Disorderly conduct), ordered her to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of this day's sitting, and she withdrew accordingly.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, unlike those Members who have just left the Chamber. A colleague of mine, the Lord Provost of Dundee, was in Warminster yesterday talking to the soldiers and officers of the Black Watch, and not one of them had any complaints. In fact, they wanted to make it clear that the opinions of people such as those who have just left the Chamber do not represent the views of the serving soldiers in the Black Watch. The fact that my right hon. Friend has managed to retain the best elements of the regimental system, while allowing the soldiers of the Black Watch to balance professionalism with their family responsibilities, bodes well for the future of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. I am sure that the 3rd Battalion Black Watch, as part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, will continue to play a major role in all future activities.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I had the privilege not only of meeting members of the Black Watch in Basra last week, but of meeting the Lord Provost of Dundee beforehand. I was grateful to him for his travelling to London to make his views known, and they are clear. He wants to preserve the best elements
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and the identity of the traditional regiments in Scotland, and he accepted the need for the re-organisation that we propose. We are reorganising to face the challenges of the 21st century, while having regard to the importance of regimental identities. That is the best way to proceed.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let me assure the House that I do not want the Chair to take up more time than is necessary, given the limited time available, but I do now appeal for very short, concise questions. It will be impossible to call every hon. Member in the time available, but I will do my bestif each hon. Member will do their best for their fellows.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that the Territorial Army has two roles? The first is to in-fill the regular Army, which makes it attractive to younger people with no responsibilities but less so to older people with family and business responsibilities. The second role is far more important: to provide a framework for expansion of the Army in times of emergency and the unforeseen. Does the Secretary of State recognise that fact, because he said nothing about it in his statement?
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