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Army 2020

Volume 577: debated on Monday 17 March 2014

The Army remains on track to implement Army 2020 structures in accordance with the announcement made by the Secretary of State on 5 July 2012.

Of particular note is the fact that all units have now been assigned to the new reaction force, adaptable force or force troops; regular and reserve units have been paired, in line with the move to a fully integrated Army; and future unit locations have been confirmed, taking account of the return of units from Germany to the United Kingdom.

The Defence Committee’s report into Army 2020, which was published last week, expressed grave concerns about the reduction to 82,000 soldiers, the way in which that figure was arrived at and the fact that the Army was informed of it rather than consulted about it. When the Minister for the Armed Forces opened our report and read it, did he have even the slightest momentary frisson of worry that he might—just might—have done the wrong thing?

I have a frisson when I open any Defence Committee report. It is worth taking into account the fact that the report has only recently been received and the implications of its recommendations are being reviewed by the respective staffs. We will be providing a full response to the report in the normal way in May 2014. It is clear to me that the Army’s response to the challenges posed by the end of combat operations in Afghanistan and the move to a UK base force remains fully valid.

In that Select Committee report, Sir Peter Wall, the Chief of the General Staff, says that Army 2020 was financially driven. Does the Minister agree with that? Furthermore, will the shortfall of 8,000 not lead to capability gaps? If so, what will he do to plug those gaps?

As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has said on numerous occasions, the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces cannot operate oblivious to the country’s fiscal position. However, we and the Army are quite clear that Army 2020 represents the best answers to the challenges, fiscal and otherwise, the country faces and is best placed to help us address the future.

Events such as in Crimea and the South China sea remind us of the need for strong defence. Has the time not now come for a fundamental reassessment of how much we spend on our armed forces? That figure should be increased even if white elephants such High Speed 2 have to be sacrificed along the way. We may have the fourth or fifth biggest defence budget, but we rank nearer 30th when it comes to deploying troops overseas, which is nonsense given the extent of our global interests.

My hon. Friend might want to turn up to Treasury questions in the near future and ask the same question. In the meantime, as he mentions overseas deployments, he might be interested to hear that last week I visited 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Cyprus, in which I know he takes a strong interest. I can report to him and the House that despite difficult circumstances its members are in good order. The planning for the merger of the two regiments of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is almost complete and a number of soldiers in the 2nd Battalion have expressed interest in remaining in the Army. We are seeking to facilitate that wherever possible.

In paragraph 32 of its recent report on Army 2020, the Defence Committee stated:

“We were…concerned to hear that it was the Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Secretary who told the Chief of the General Staff the future size of the Army under the Army 2020 plan.”

Will the Minister say what exactly the role of the Chief of the General Staff was in determining the size of the Army? Why was it left to the permanent secretary to inform him what the size of the Army would be under Army 2020?

Decisions about the overall size of the armed forces are ultimately taken by Ministers, but the Army 2020 plan was designed by the Army, and it is the Army that has the primary responsibility for implementing it. While we are on the subject of advice, one thing we will not do in trying to grow the Army and the reserves is follow the example of the previous Government, who thought that it was a good idea, for growing the Territorial Army, to threaten not to pay its members for turning up for training.