Mr Speaker, can I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement.
Mr Speaker, haven’t we come a long way since the Conservative Party said before the last election they would have “a bigger Army for a safer Britain.” And what happened to “put simply, we need to have a larger army and we need more infantry”? When did that change? When they entered government. A broken promise. And even in government, more broken promises. The Prime Minister said in 2010 – after the defence review his government undertook – “we will retain a large, well – equipped Army, numbering around 95,500 by 2015 – 7,000 fewer than today.” Why did that change? Will the Secretary of State accept that this government has let down Armed Forces and their families?
Because, Mr Speaker, no-one underestimates the challenges of reconfiguring our Armed Forces and at the same time maintaining the British military’s reputation as the best in the world.
Withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of a presence in Germany means that there is of course a need for the appropriate reduction in personnel across all three Armed Forces.
That is sensible and fair and we support it. But isn’t it the case the Secretary of State is failing to approach this with the strategy required for the good of the country, and the sensitivity required for the good of the individuals involved and their families? Let’s not forget this, this is about people.
The Secretary of State just hasn’t made a convincing case for carrying out further redundancies to the Armed Forces and reducing capability at an even quicker rate.
Will he accept that there are real concerns that by pressing ahead with these redundancies the Government is taking risks with Britain’s safety and security?
It was clear in autumn last year that the required uplift in the numbers of reserves – the 30,000 new recruits to replace the 20,000 regulars – wasn’t happening at anywhere near the speed required. The government hardly met a third of its own targets. We said then, as did other honourable members from across the House that the Government should pause its reductions in army numbers until it was clear that their reserve recruitment was on track. That still holds today.
On this specific round of redundancies, can the Defence Secretary tell us how many of will be compulsory? Can he all so tell us from which regiments and squadrons these redundancies will be drawn? Doesn’t he agree with me that for these people it is a shocking way to repay the dedicated service that they have given their country? Is he concerned about a loss of skills, particularly on pinch points, and what is he doing to address it?
Can he confirm that at least no one will be made redundant in a way which affects their pension entitlement? Is it true that a small number of military personnel have been made redundant days before they meet a service requirement for a pension to which they are entitled? That is not fair.
And can he outline what support will be given to those leaving the service and transitioning to civilian life?
The Gurkhas are one of the finest fighting forces in the British Army. Does he accept that they have been disproportionately affected by cuts to the Army. For example, in 2011 more than half the Army redundancies fell on the Gurkhas and in the second tranche of redundancies in January 2012 the Brigade was reduced by 400 men, when the rest of the infantry only lost 500. Does he think that’s fair? And what does he think about the public perception that Gurkhas redundancies are a result of the increased cost of the Gurkhas after their successful campaign for better pay and conditions?
Mr Speaker, the sense I have today is one of amazement. How does the Secretary of State do it? A recruitment campaign started last week amidst great fanfare, followed a day later by the revelation of an IT crisis that mean people can’t actually sign up, and now a parliamentary statement announcing redundancies. If he was a football referee, the crowd would be chanting – and it would have to be a charitable crowd – you don’t know what you’re doing. And they’d be right.
The Government is letting down our Armed Forces and their families, and taking risks with our country’s safety and security. The Secretary of State’s story is one of failure. On procurement, on recruitment and on redundancies. He is getting it wrong and he knows it. Today’s statement only reinforces that.