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The Secretary of State was asked—
Scottish Regiments (Iraq)
1. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): If he will make a statement on the role of the Scottish regiments in Iraq. [199353]
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Scottish regiments, along with other United Kingdom and multinational forces, have played and continue to play a valuable role in providing security to help build a free, stable and secure Iraq. I pay tribute to the contribution of the Black Watch, which is currently serving with distinction in Iraq, continuing its operations in Babil province in support of the wider Iraqi security force and coalition operations south and west of Baghdad.
John Barrett: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but given that the Scottish regiments deserve the same loyalty from the Government as they are showing on the front line, is it not crass insensitivity, at a time when our soldiers are risking their lives in Iraq, for the Government to sacrifice the heritage of Scottish or any other regiments?
Mr. Hoon: On the contrary, it would be crass and insensitive if we did not take the necessary decisions to ensure that Britain’s armed forces and Britain’s Army were organised to face the challenges of the 21st century, recognising, as we do, the importance of preserving identity, heritage and tradition in the way that previous reorganisations of our armed forces have done.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): Is not the thing that really undermines our troops in Iraq the fact that the reorganisation of the regiments is being used for cynical, party political purposes by the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish nationalists, and even by some Tories who ought to know better?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. This is not the first time that such reorganisation has faced someone in my position, or indeed the position of one of my predecessors. I quote Henry Childers, Secretary of State for War in 1881, who said:
“‘The tartan question’ is one of the gravest character, far more important . . . than the maintenance of the Union with Ireland. All the thoughts of the War Office are concentrated on it, and patterns of tartans past, present, and future, fill our rooms. We are neglecting the Transvaal, and the Ashanti for the sake of well weighing the merits of a few more threads of red, green or white.”
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that the whole House will concur with his view about the distinguished history of the Scottish regiments and their current effectiveness, but that there is understandable and genuine concern that the proposals he is considering, to affect not only the Scottish regiments but the whole British infantry, will have a severe impact on training opportunities, especially on overstretch, which causes added strain to families and to capacity? We ask a lot of those people and they give us a lot, but I wonder whether the Secretary of State is behind them as much as he claims.
Mr. Hoon: I have set out only the principles that will govern any decisions taken in that area and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman approaches the principles in that way. If he looks carefully at the statement that I made last July, he will see, for example, that one of the underlying purposes is to end the arms plot, whereby at any given time we have as many as seven or eight battalions that are not available for operational deployment, which means that the proposals, if carried through, will increase the number of forces available for operations and, therefore, reduce the level of stretch on our infantry battalions.
Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that emotions are running high in Scotland over the role of Scottish regiments in Iraq, so does he agree that it is

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