Sunday 7 February 2021 / 10:30 PM Defence / John Healey

Labour to force Government action on under-prepared Army numbers

Following a leaked Ministry of Defence report on Saturday that showed 32 of 33 infantry battalions are dangerously short of battle-ready personnel, Labour will use new legislation to force the Government to safeguard the strength of Britain’s full-time forces.

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey MP, is planning a bid to amend the Armed Forces Bill, due for Commons debate on Monday 8 February, to mandate Ministers to report to Parliament each year on the fighting strength of the Armed Forces.

Healey points out the Conservatives’ 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review target to “maintain the size of the regular Armed Forces and to not reduce the Army to below 82,000” has not been met, amid a much criticised £1.3 billion recruitment contract and continuing problems with retention stemming dissatisfaction with pay, housing and low morale.

Instead, the size of full-time, full-trained Army personnel has shrunk from 102,200 in 2010 to 75,310 in 2020, well below the committed strength of 82,000. The overall numbers of personnel across the Armed Forces are down by 43,645 (a cut of 25%) since 2010, amid fears that the forthcoming Integrated Review will announce further cuts to the Armed Forces.

Speaking ahead of the debate John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary said:

“There is serious concern that Britain’s Armed Forces remain 10,000 below the total strength Ministers have said is needed and we believe there is cross-party support for making sure the MoD keeps our full-time forces up to strength and battle-ready.

“The strength of our forces should rightly be set by a full assessment of the security threats we face and this is a central question the new Integrated Review must answer. Our adversaries will exploit continuing holes in our capability. The UK needs a proper defence strategy without further delay.

“Labour also wants to ensure the Government’s Armed Forces Bill will deliver step-change improvements in work and living conditions for the forces, veterans and their families.”