My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has engaged in a number of discussions about the structure of regiments in Wales and, indeed, those elsewhere in the United Kingdom as part of the study into the Army’s future force structure.
In his speech last Thursday the Secretary of State said that regional identity and recruitment capability were important criteria. Does the Minister accept that 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards—the Welsh cavalry—fulfils both criteria and, therefore, every effort should be taken to ensure that the regiment is saved?
Any decisions made will respect regional and national identities, but they will have to be made on objective criteria, including geographical considerations that link closely to recruitment and the need to get the right balance of capabilities and the maximum operational output.
We accept that there will be a reduction in the number of regiments, but given that any artificial increase or staying the same of Scottish regiments, some of which were recruited at only 78%, will have a knock-on effect throughout the United Kingdom, does the Minister think that the shadow Secretary of State for Defence consulted his Welsh and English colleagues on the likely effect of keeping an artificial number of Scottish regiments?
My hon. Friend is quite right; if we are to see a reduction in the regular Army from 102,000 to 82,000, it is inevitable that some units will be disbanded. The criteria by which those units are selected must be objective, as I have described. They must recognise the recruitment strength and the right balance of capabilities. It would not be right for favour to be shown to one part of the country at the expense of another.
The Minister will be well aware that Wales provides an above-average number of Army recruits, compared with the UK average, and of the tremendous symbolic importance of having a distinctive Welsh identity when the regiments are redrawn, so will he take both factors into consideration when making his decision?