Armed Forces cuts: Rebel MPs fail on vote

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond defeated an amendment put forward by Conservative back-benchers calling for a halt to his Defence Reform Bill for further financial scrutiny

Major Chester Potts, Chairman of the North East Fusilliers
Major Chester Potts, Chairman of the North East Fusilliers

A plan by rebel MPs to over-throw the Government’s programme to slash troop numbers has failed.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond defeated an amendment put forward by Conservative back-benchers calling for a halt to his Defence Reform Bill for further financial scrutiny.

The future of 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which recruits across Northumberland and Tyneside is now under threat as it is one of five infantry battalions set to be disbanded in 2014.

Following a four-hour debate in the House of Commons, MPs voted 306 to 252 against the amendment tabled by Conservative ex-soldier MP John Baron.

Mr Hammond is now set to continue with reforms to reduce the size of the British Army by 20,000 regular soldiers and instead increase the number of reservists from 19,000 to 30,000.

Major Chester Potts, chair of the Northumberland Fusiliers Association, said the result of the vote had been a huge disappointment after earlier expectation of a full Tory back-bench rebellion.

“Unfortunately we didn’t get enough rebels and now the campaign team will have to look at this and re-evaluate and see where we go from here,” he said.

“We have got one or two things in the pipeline and we’ll see what to do.”

It is understood Mr Baron, the representative for Basildon in Essex, was supported in his amendment by North East Labour MPs Nick Brown, Ian Mearns, Chi Onwurah, Ian Lavery, Dave Anderson and Mary Glindon after the Labour party issued a three line whip.

However Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, voted with the Government.

Major Potts said: “We’ve never had support during the campaign from him and I’m surprised no-one has realised in the area that this man is supporting the Government’s stance on the Fusiliers.

“He’s not supported his local regiment. If you go to the war memorial in Hexham next to the abbey in the park you will see name after name from the 4th and 8th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers who gave their lives in both world wars.

“The 4th Battalion were practically wiped out in North Africa in 1942 but he seems oblivious to every man who gave his life.”

Earlier in the debate Mr Hammond placated MPs by offering to change the law so that The Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations would provide annual information to Parliament on recruitment and retention in the reserves.

He told the Commons that on reflection he considered it to be a sensible idea for the “growth and reinvigoration of our reserves”.

Mr Baron said he hadn’t proposed a ‘wrecking amendment’ but for more time to iron out costings and the intended recruitment of reservist soldiers.

Speaking to the house he said: “This is not aimed at tearing up the plans and certainly not an attempt to recreate or go back to a Victorian style or size army.

“Delays to army reserve plans could be kept to an absolute minimum if the Government allowed proper scrutiny of the report.”

Twenty-six MPs, including 22 Tories, signed up to support Mr Baron.

Mr Hammond said: “The Government has set out its plan. We are legislating to deliver it. The Army has embraced it wholeheartedly. For Parliament to introduce additional trip wires at this stage would create uncertainty.”

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