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The Welsh Cavalry

Volume 547: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2012

1. What discussions she has had with her ministerial colleagues on the future of the 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards, the Welsh cavalry. (113163)

Before I answer the question, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the 10 British servicemen who have been killed in action since our last session of Welsh questions, including five who were from, or attached to, the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh. They were courageous and talented soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of our nation, and we will always remember them.

The Army is conducting a study of its future force structure. The outcome of the study will be announced once decisions have been made. Until then, it is not possible to comment on which specific units may be affected.

May I urge my right hon. Friend, on behalf of the numerous constituents who have written to me about the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, to work closely with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to try to ensure that this superb regiment is retained?

I have stressed that the continuation of a strong military presence in Wales is of great importance both to the local communities and to the country as a whole. I proudly display at the entrance to Gwydyr House the emblem of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, which celebrates the bravery and commitment of our armed forces in Wales on behalf of Queen and country. I will continue to give every support to our Welsh regiments, including the QDG.

The feet-dragging by the Ministry of Defence over the future of the Welsh cavalry is deeply damaging to its morale. Will the Secretary of State strongly urge Defence Ministers to keep it?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that I have fully supported the Welsh cavalry—the QDG. I will take no lessons from a party which, in restructuring the Army, consigned more than 600 years of military tradition in Wales to the history books when it abolished the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Royal Regiment of Wales to form the Royal Welsh. I, certainly, will continuously press the Welsh regiments’ case at the highest level, and the hon. Gentleman should take comfort from that.

Does the Secretary of State agree that abolishing the QDG would be almost as bad as abolishing, for example, the Welsh Guards? Will she impress on her Cabinet colleagues the central importance of the regimental system to the morale and effectiveness of the British Army as a whole?

My distinguished hon. Friend has himself served in the armed forces, and I agree with him entirely. On 2 June I attended the home-coming parade and the reception in Cardiff for the Queen’s Dragoon Guards as part of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations, and I know that the morale of units that are so closely associated with Wales needs to continue.

May I first associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the sacrifice made by all the Welsh men and women who fought for this country? They should never be forgotten in the House or in the country.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State could bring herself to comment on the worrying rumours that, while the Welsh cavalry may well be saved following a campaign across the House, the price that we may pay for that is the loss of one of the battalions of the Royal Welsh, with its 700 jobs in Wales?

Let me just remind the House that the last Labour Government left the MOD budget with a £38 billion black hole, and that it has been brought back into balance for the first time in a generation by this Government. I assure the hon. Gentleman—who is a Johnny-come-lately to this campaign—that I will continue to give my undiluted support to our Welsh regiments, but, as I have said, no decisions have yet been made. There is a great deal of speculation, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should make people feel so insecure.

Despite the bluster, the Secretary of State’s silence on the fate of the Royal Welsh will have been heard throughout the armed forces, including those in Afghanistan, where the 1st Battalion is currently serving. Does she not agree that it will be a truly pyrrhic victory for the QDG if a cap badge is saved in Wales but we lose a battalion with several hundred jobs?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but let me repeat that no decisions have been made. Let me also repeat that I will take no lessons from a party that got rid of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Royal Regiment of Wales. I can take advice from much better people than the hon. Gentleman.

I, too, urge the Secretary of State to make any representations necessary to keep the Royal Welsh, because it recruits very well in its traditional recruitment areas and any loss of a battalion would limit the opportunities for young Welsh people to join an infantry regiment.

I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. As he knows, there is huge affection for all these regiments. Since the moment I was appointed as Secretary of State for Wales, I have made it my business to visit as many parts of the Army services in Wales as possible, and I continue to support the regiments. This issue is also important as we are seeking to recruit people into the reserves and the Territorial Army. These brigades are a great recruiting sergeant, and long may they continue. Certainly, I will always make that case, although the decision does not rest with this office.

Order. The Secretary of State is not conducting a private conversation. If she would be good enough to look in the direction of the House, we might hear her, for which we would all be deeply obliged.