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Armed Forces: Redundancies

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 20 June 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the implications of the most recently announced redundancies in the British Army for the United Kingdom’s defence capabilities.

My Lords, the Chief of the General Staff and his team assess that the size and the structure of the Army set out in Future Army 2020 will deliver the level of capability agreed in the October 2010 SDSR and the associated national security strategy. The Army’s element of the Armed Forces redundancy programme is a consequence of the size of the Army being delivered under Future Army 2020 and as such there are no implications for the UK’s defence capabilities.

My Lords:

“There’s never been a better time to be a soldier, to get qualified and have a career”.

That is on the Army website at this minute. It further states that,

“there will be even more opportunities for people who want to enjoy the challenges that come with being a soldier”.

That is a sham. If there were any justice the Government would be prosecuted for issuing a misleading prospectus. The Minister is well regarded in this House, deservedly so, and perhaps he is here with a heavy heart today, but how much longer will the Government go on sacking highly trained, highly skilled, highly motivated soldiers who have been trained at great expense to the taxpayer and have served our country well, and, at the same time, spend an absolute fortune on advertising for, recruiting and training their replacements? It is a total waste of taxpayers’ money and is harming our defence capability.

My Lords, no Government likes making these kinds of redundancies. While reduced recruiting and fewer extensions of service will account for some reductions, a redundancy programme is needed to ensure that the right balance of skills is maintained.

My Lords, is it not the case that more than 80% of those who are on the redundancy programme this time are volunteers? If so, what does that say about morale in the Armed Forces, particularly in the Army?

My Lords, the number of applications for redundancy is not a good indicator of the state of morale because the Army has deliberately set out to maximise applications. Additionally, it should be noted that only 30% of those who were eligible applied for redundancy.

My Lords, will the Minister expand on his Answer in relation to reductions in the Army to include reductions in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy? The proposals were for 5,000 reductions in the RAF and 5,000 in the Royal Navy. Can he tell the House the timing of those reductions and what progress has been made? Following on from the previous question, what is the state of morale in the Armed Forces if voluntary redundancies are of the extent about which we have been told?

My Lords, I think I covered the question of morale in my previous answer. As to redundancies in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, in tranche 1, 2,800 personnel—just over 1,000 Royal Navy, 920 Army and 920 RAF—were selected for redundancy, of which 62% were applicants. In tranche 2 of the Armed Forces redundancy programme, 3,760 personnel—165 Royal Navy, 2,880 Army and 750 RAF—were selected for redundancy. Achieving the reductions required to bring the Regular Army to a strength of 82,000 is expected to require a further redundancy tranche, which may also include medical personnel of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. However, at this point, no decision on this has been taken.

My Lords, the Minister is aware that the Chief of the General Staff and the Secretary of State for Defence are both on record as saying that any further cuts would dramatically impact on our military capability. All of us who have any knowledge of the MoD know that there is insufficient funding for Future Force 2020, to which the Minister referred. Notwithstanding this and assuming that there will be further cuts, have we conducted a detailed analysis—rather like the highly regarded global strategy paper that was produced—looking at the true impact of these forced reductions on our Armed Forces’ ability to conduct the military operations that our nation has a right to expect of them?

My Lords, on the first part of the noble Lord’s question, as he would expect, I agree with the Secretary of State. On the issue of detailed analysis, as the noble Lord knows there are some very bright people in the Ministry of Defence and I can assure him that endless meetings are taking place to discuss the way forward.

My Lords, could my noble friend very gently point out to noble Lords opposite that none of this would have been necessary had the previous Government not made such a mess of the defence procurement programme and a mess of our economy?

Would the noble Lord be kind enough to return to the Question he was originally asked by my noble friend Lord Touhig and address the recruitment campaign? I do not think I heard him answer the implied question. Why are we still recruiting when we are making redundancies?

My Lords, even while reducing in size, the army must continue to recruit new talent to replace those who are promoted. It needs to develop its own leaders. It cannot bring in people from outside to leadership roles without the necessary military experience.

Will my noble friend say a word about the injured and the wounded, bearing in mind the very worthy tradition that wherever possible they were absorbed back into the armed services as soon as they were in a position to give of their best?

My Lords, all personnel who have been graded permanently below the minimum medical retention standard were exempt from redundancy and, where appropriate, will be medically discharged in due course. Every case of wounded, injured or sick will be assessed individually. No one will leave the Armed Forces through redundancy or otherwise until they have reached a point in their recovery where leaving is the right decision, however long it takes.

My Lords, is it not disingenuous and absurd to suggest that you can reduce the Army from 102,000 to 82,000 with no reduction in the nation’s defence capability? Will the noble Lord set out the figures clearly and frankly? What was the maximum military force that we were able to sustain over a number of years—for example in Iraq or Afghanistan—with an Army of 102,000, and what will be the maximum military force that we can deploy on a sustainable basis under the new arrangements for an Army of 82,000?

My Lords, this was not being disingenuous. This level of capability was agreed by the SDSR and the National Security Council.