Q6 Mr Viggers: The question that an unsophisticated mind might address is this: bearing in mind that there is overstretch in the Army how is this going to be improved by a significant reduction in armed forces’ strength?
General Sir Michael Walker: I think the Secretary of State gave you the answer on that. One of the problems we have had is that because we do arms plotting, we put in baulk a number of units that cannot then be used for anything else and that puts pressure even more so on those units that are having to do the business. As we reach a situation where the units have a home base, so to speak, they will be available for use all the time and, therefore, your 36 battalions become available for use so that is going to address that problem. I would refer really to the Secretary of State’s problem – and you need to put these things in context – we do not go and do operations on clean unsupported battalions who have no command and control, no sustainability and no logistics. All we do is we have a number of brigades and, by and large, our commitments are based on a battle group brigade or a divisional level of effort. We have done nothing in this latest Defence White Paper to prevent them deploying and producing the right number of boots on the ground, in fact what we have done is we have made it rather easier for them to do so. We are making sure now that the logistic sustainability of a thing called a brigade with its infantry, its engineers, its communications experts, all the ordnance and driver experts is going to be able to do that rather better. To argue this is a debate just about infantry manpower is quite wrong.
Q7 Mr Havard: You mentioned Northern Ireland and the fact that troops are able to be released in Northern Ireland effectively to increase the pool so you can relieve the pressures and so on; this sort of quasi peace dividend, as it were. Can you just clarify something: I thought there were four battalions effectively coming back from Northern Ireland, is that right?
Mr Hoon: That will be four battalions relieved from the plot that we have to do. In fact many of them have been rear based for a number of years so they have only been available for Northern Ireland, in a sense, in emergencies. By taking them off that plot then they are released for other duties which we could not do confidently at the moment because we would have to hold them in reserve in the event of there being a significant deterioration.
Q8 Mr Havard: You mentioned a figure of about 2,500, equivalence of bodies; I thought there was going to be more than that. I am told by certain people that there are about a thousand people who have got lost in the Irish Sea here. The assumption of how many full time equivalents, if I could call it that, who are going to be released by this process is about a thousand less than what people originally anticipated from your announcement about the number of people who are going to be released. Have you anything to say about that?
Mr Hoon: I think strictly my brief says up to 3,000, so I am being cautious in terms of 2,500.
Q9 Mr Havard: I have just found another 500 then.
Mr Hoon: I try and avoid “up to” figures because it is rather like those figures in the shops when it is sale time, I am always a little suspicious of the headline targets. I tried to be as accurate to the Committee as I thought was appropriate.
Sir Kevin Tebbit: To be precise, Secretary of State, there are some reductions associated with some of the reductions in heavy equipment. They do not make up big figures but they might explain some of the arithmetic you are talking about.
General Sir Michael Walker: Again, to put in context, the normalisation process in Northern Ireland eventually will have a different lay down, it will not just be the infantry of course, there are three sets of brigade, and one of them is closing now. The infrastructure which has supported our de