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Hammond heads off reform rebellion

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond managed to hea d off a Tory rebellion over the Government's controversial Army reorganisation after making last-minute concessions.

The Conservative amendment, which could have delayed plans to expand the Army Reserve to 30,000 to offset cuts of 20,000 in regular forces by 2020, was defeated by 306 votes to 252.

Tory rebel ringleader John Baron wanted to force the Defence Secretary to report to Parliament on the "viability and cost-effectiveness" of the reform plans and only allow them to go ahead with the approval of both Houses.

But Mr Hammond had urged colleagues not to back it, warning there is a risk of "serious damage" to the UK's reserve forces.

He agreed instead to an amendment tabled by the Tory backbencher Julian Brazier, which will require annual external reports to Parliament on the recruitment of Army reserves.

Mr Hammond told MPs: "I hope it might be helpful if I am able to indicate to the House at this stage we are minded to accept the principle of your new clause... indeed we have already made arrangements to receive independent reports from the RFCA (Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations) on an annual basis.

"You are suggesting placing that requirement in statute and on reflection we consider that is a sensible idea and will strengthen the programme for the growth and reinvigoration of our Reserves.

"I hope making that clear at the beginning of the debate will help to set the tone for the debate."

Earlier Mr Baron had warned that there were a "a number of things that are not going right" with the Government's Army reforms.

"We have badly missed reserve recruitment targets, we have decline in TA (Territorial Army) numbers, costs are rising, there are herculean assumptions to make the plan work," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Asked about the issue at Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said: "This is an important programme for the future of the country. Of course I understand (MPs') concerns about this but if we pass the amendment... that would simply stop us investing in our reserves and improving our reserves rather than changing the overall stance.

"I have noticed that Labour have put out a statement today saying 'we are not calling for the reforms to be reversed, we are not saying the reforms should be shelved'.

"In that case, if they vote against the Government one can only assume it's naked opportunism."

Mr Hammond said after the vote: "I am pleased that Parliament has agreed that we must continue to invest in our Reserve forces and rebuild them after years of neglect. This sends out a message that the House of Commons is behind our Reserves as well as our Regular forces as we increase the Reserves to 35,000 by 2018.

"We can now continue to invest the £1.8bn allocated for improved equipment, overseas training and a better remuneration package with paid leave and a new pension entitlement. The changes under way will ensure that our Armed Forces are more flexible, agile and adaptable to future challenges."

Shadow Defence Secretary Vernon Coaker said: "The Defence Secretary was forced to come to the House of Commons to be questioned by MPs, but he did not explain why Government it is failing to meet its own recruitment targets. Neither did he address concerns about ongoing problems with the contractor that is supposed to be overseeing recruitment.

"Labour has consistently called for transparency on reserve recruitment figures. I welcome the fact that the Defence Secretary has today bowed to pressure and agreed to independent scrutiny, albeit limited, of reserve numbers. It is a step in the right direction.

"We will continue to hold the Government to account on these issues of critical importance for the future of our Armed Forces and the defence of our country."


From Belfast Telegraph