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Regiments (Yorkshire)

Volume 451: debated on Monday 30 October 2006

4. If he will take steps to ensure that the merger of Army regiments will preserve historic links with Yorkshire towns and cities. (97412)

Connections with Yorkshire will be maintained through the presence of a permanent regimental headquarters in York, with outstations in Richmond and Halifax. In order to carry forward the historic links of the antecedent regiments with the towns and cities of Yorkshire, the Yorkshire regiment undertook a series of marches through the county over the summer.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Although I congratulate the Government on retaining the name of the Halifax regiment, may I press my right hon. Friend to confirm that the links will continue by giving a funding boost to the Army’s Bankfield museum in Halifax? That will ensure that the historic links with the town are maintained.

I am not aware that there is an issue with the museum. My understanding was that museums would continue, but I shall certainly look into the specific point that my hon. Friend raised. On behalf of the new Yorkshire regiment, I ask her to work in the county and in her constituency to ensure that the regiment is fully recognised and supported by all the community.

Does the Minister agree that old regiments, such as the Green Howards and many others, had recognised historical links with cities such as York and towns such as Thirsk and Bedale, which helped with recruitment? He must ensure that those links are recognised under the new set-up; otherwise this Government and the next Government will have enormous problems with recruitment and retention.

I agree that trying to maintain recruitment is an issue across the whole Army, although, as it happens, recruitment in Yorkshire is strong and we do not believe that it has been affected by the formation of the new regiment. As of today, recruitment figures are actually better than they were for the previous two years, which tends to go against some of the views that have been expressed, but we have to maintain that activity to ensure that we retain that high level of recruitment. That is why recruiting activities will continue throughout Yorkshire; and I know that the hon. Lady will be supportive and will make sure that people interested in an Army career choose the Yorkshire regiment, as other Members will want to do for regiments in their constituencies. We are conscious of the issue, although we have not seen the adverse effect that the hon. Lady seemed to imply, and we shall continue all our efforts to maintain recruitment.

Is the Minister aware that the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which was merged just over four years ago into the Light Infantry, is to be merged in February into the Rifles? Will he assure the House that his Department will do everything it can to maintain the historic links with significant historical regiments, such as those for Yorkshire, which are so important for recruitment, and to encourage the regimental associations, when the mergers take place in February, to keep alive that distinguished history?

We are very conscious of the golden thread, as it is called. It is for the Army itself, as well as the regimental associations, to keep that light burning. Throughout its history, the British Army has undergone many, many changes, with regiments amalgamated and some disbanded, yet it is still revered as among the best, if not the best, in the world today. If we do not adapt to change and continue to make sure that our people have the best structure and the best support, that golden thread will be challenged, but we have it very much in mind.

Although many predicted a doomsday scenario when amalgamations took place, is not it the case that because of the historic links, especially with Scottish regiments, recruitment is up?

Recruitment is doing well, although there are good and less good areas, but a lot of effort goes into maintaining it. There was cataclysmic phraseology around, to the effect that the process would be the end of the British Army as we know it, but that has simply not been the case. I am conscious, too, of the fact that 100,000 people marched through Glasgow in 1957 campaigning against the amalgamation of the Highland Light Infantry, yet the then Conservative Government proceeded with the amalgamation and the British Army is still strong. That amalgamation and subsequent ones proved successful. We have to make sure that this is as successful and I have every confidence that it will be.