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Grenadier Guards

Volume 451: debated on Monday 30 October 2006

10. What the tour interval over the last three years will have been for the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards when deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. (97418)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence last updated the House on units deploying to Afghanistan on 10 October 2006. Army units are generally given advance notice of a possible deployment to allow them to plan ahead. The next major routine roulement of regular UK forces is due to take place next spring. The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards has been given prior warning that it may form part of that deployment. An announcement regarding the next roulement will be made in due course, once the details have been finalised. If the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was to deploy to Afghanistan in spring, its average tour interval for the three-year period between April 2004 and April 2007 would be 10.75 months.

Of course, that is way out of the harmony guidelines. The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards will have been deployed on operational tour for 19 out of 36 months by spring next year. Does the Minister not recognise the massive effect that that has on family life, promotion and retention? Such a pathetic tour interval will lead only to fewer soldiers, not more. In light of those statistics, will the Minister review the dreadful decision taken by the Ministry of Defence in July 2004 to cut four infantry battalions? Will he recognise that to give soldiers what they need, perhaps more soldiers are required?

The hon. Gentleman raised two points. Yes, we fully recognise the impact that such short tour intervals have on all serving personnel and their families, and we do all we can to work against that. Looking across the average, we are not that far out in terms of our overall commitment, but there are certain units that come under great pressure.

The hon. Gentleman talks a lot of nonsense about the restructuring of the Army under the future infantry structure. Let me tell him why. Under the arms plot which we have had for too long and which successive Governments refused to tackle, anything up to seven battalions were not available because of re-roleing or relocating. The restructuring that we are undertaking and the reinvestment of 3,000 posts through the future Army structure will allow the British Army and the British armed forces to live up to the high accolade that we give them—that they are the best in the world. That will take time to deliver, but at least we are now on track. Previous Governments failed to achieve that.