Jim Murphy MP response to the Army 2020 Statement

Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the Army 2020 Statement in the House of Commons last Thursday (5th July 2012), said:

I would like to thank the Secretary of State for his statement.

May I join him in paying tribute to Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole who was killed, and Squadron Leader Samuel Bailey and Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders who are still missing and must be presumed dead, all of 15 (Reserve) Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth, who were involved in the Tornado GR4 aircraft incident on Tuesday.

My thoughts – and, I am sure, those of the entire House – are with their loved ones at this difficult time, and with the fourth member of the Squadron involved in the incident, who is currently in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

Mr Speaker today’s statement is rightly long on detail but totally short of strategic context.

New threats are emerging and weak and failing states outnumber strong by two to one.

There is an arc of instability from West African states to Central and Southeast Asia. Non-state actors are on the rise, climate and population change are new sources of tension.

The United States is pivoting towards the pacific while the European end of NATO will take greater strain.

In that context, Mr Speaker, a statement which outlines plans to deliver the smallest Army since the Boer war is an entirely inadequate response.

Mr Speaker, we can judge a statement not just by what is said but when it is made.

This statement has been delayed to spare the Prime Minister’s blushes at Armed Forces Day.

He sought the reflected glory of the heroes who serve while preparing to cut the prestige they embody.

The process has been as chaotic and the Prime Minister’s behaviour has been cynical and should never be repeated.

The British Army is an institution which is central to our national security as well as to our national identity.

Mr Speaker the UK is cutting a higher proportion of our Army than many major allies. Indeed, France and Germany have higher net debt than the UK and yet they are cutting their Forces by less.

Mr Speaker, the SDSR announced cuts of 7,000 to the Army.

New Defence Planning Assumptions stated that the UK could do one major and two lesser operations.

And now with a cut of 20,000 it is inconceivable that there won’t be an impact on force projection, in particular in light of cuts to combat support and key enablers.

I believe in the deterrent effect of the British Army and its ability to deploy, but for that to be effective we need both flexibility and sustainability. These plans may provide flexible Forces, but it’s far from certain that it will provide sustainable military utility.

Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have rightly been controversial. We are all learning the lessons.

It’s one thing to take a decision in the future to never again become involved in large scale counter insurgency operations.

But, when it is impossible to say that the next decade will be safer than the last, it’s quite another to make a change to our defence posture that may mean we couldn’t make large long-term deployments even if we wished to.

Will he confirm that the SDSR planning assumptions that applied to an army of 95,000 can no longer be guaranteed by a regular army of 82,000?

Tough decisions are necessary. We support changes in the non-deployable administrative structure and the equipment programme, and to tackle ‘top heavy’ structures.

All who believed the Prime Minister when he said in Opposition, “We want to see the British Army increase in size”, will be dismayed by today’s news.

The Secretary of State has previously said that recruitment was a criteria to determine cuts. According to the Honorary Colonel of the 2nd Royal Fusiliers it is just 9 short of full strength and he has said this “cannot be presented as the best or most sensible military option”.

Further, some battalions have today lost their historic identities but others are set to retain theirs.

In Wales there is a pyrrhic victory in saving a cap badge but losing 600 people.

And the Argylls are being reduced to guarding castles and being the back drop to Japanese tourists’ photographs.

Can the Secretary of State explain precisely the military grounds for the decisions on those that will lose their cap badges, and can he say how many of the 17 units being affected today are at full strength or within 5 per cent of full compliment.

And what specific additional measures he can announce today to help Service-leavers find work?

Mr Speaker we support an increased role for our Reservists, but 15,000 brilliant part-time Reservists cannot fill the gap created by the loss of 20,000 full-time Regulars.

To many this appears not a response to threats, but self-made capability gaps.

Will he make clear that Reservists won’t form stand-alone units on operations, and what proportion of an enduring operation would he envisage being made up of Reserves?

Some will see this as a military gamble, and it’s undoubtedly an enormous employment challenge. So will he guarantee that the Government will look at new legislation to prevent more active Reservists from being discriminated against in the workplace?

These decisions flow from a Defence Review which put savings before strategy.

Now our Forces face a perfect storm. We are seeing the largest number of Service-leavers in a generation at a time of deep recession.

Today, jobs and military capability have been lost and tradition and history have been sacrificed.

This isn’t just a smaller Army, it’s also a less powerful army in a less influential nation. And today our Armed Forces and their families deserve better.


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