Michael Fabricant quizzed the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff
Hoon, on the future of the Staffordshire Regiment in the Commons Chamber
yesterday afternoon (29th November) and received no clear answer. "This
uncertainty cannot be doing much for the morale of soldiers in the
Staffordshire Regiment" says Michael Fabricant. "As long as their
future remains uncertain, it is bound to affect their attitude. Geoff
Hoon did nothing to allay their fears yesterday, and I am very
disappointed with his response he gave to me and to the Staffords."
In the Chamber, Michael formally asked the Secretary of State for
Defence: "If he will make a statement on the future of the
Geoff Hoon replied: "As I announced in July, the reduction in the
number of forces committed to Northern Ireland means that the overall
requirement for infantry battalions can be reduced by four. This
reduction will comprise one battalion from Scotland and three from
England. The posts saved will be reinvested in strengthening the
establishment of the remaining infantry battalions and providing
additional logistic, engineer and intelligence personnel, who are needed
to sustain our expeditionary capability.
"In addition, the decision to phase out the infantry arms plot, which
uproots Army families every few years, means that a new infantry
structure is required. This new structure will seek to preserve the best
elements of the regimental system while adapting to ensure operational
success for the future. The new structure will be based on large
regiments of two or more battalions."
But Michael Fabricant then said: "That is the most generic answer I
have ever heard, Mr Speaker. I asked specifically about the
Staffordshire Regiment, and not once was it referred to in the answer.
Will the Secretary of State now say what the future of the Staffordshire
Regiment, as he was asked to do formally on the Order Paper?
"Is he aware that next year will be the 300th anniversary of the
founding of the Staffordshire Regiment? Will that be a celebration or a
wake? Is he aware that the recruiting record of the Staffordshire
Regiment is second to none? When exactly will it know its future? Will
it keep its own identity? The morale of the regiment, like that of so
many other regiments, is at risk when such uncertainty continues."
Geoff Hoon replied: "The Staffords have a very fine and distinguished
history. I would be the first to acknowledge that, and I do not want the
honourable Gentleman to talk down the morale of Britain’s armed forces.
As I visit members of the armed forces, I do not find that their morale
is jeopardised, but I assure him that in the context of seeking a
structure for our Army that is consistent with the requirements of the
21st century, we will have every regard to the need to preserve the
historic identity of fine regiments such as the Staffords."