On Tuesday several hundred former Fusiliers and their families formed up outside Downing street where a petition to save the Second Battalion was presented to No 10. They then marched down Whitehall to gather in Old Palace Yard to hear three speeches.
Tomorrow sees a further debate on the defence Reforms. The wording of the motion being debated is:
That this House notes concerns about the Government’s defence reforms in relation to whether its proposals for the reserve forces will deliver either the anticipated cost savings or defence capability: and urges the Government to delay the disbandment of regular units until it is established that the Army Reserve plan is viable and cost- effective.
As of last night 29 and signed the motion 22 Conservatives 4 Labour 1 Liberal Democrat and 2 Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland
It is now many months since the Government announced that as part of the plan to bring the Ministry of defence budget into balance a number of battalions were being withdrawn and one of these was the Second Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. There has been an ongoing campaign to try and persuade the Government to reverse this decision on various grounds not least of which is the fact that there are Scottish battalions which find it more difficult to recruit.
Last week the Government announced the latest list of redundancies totalling 4,480, four our of five of which were voluntary. The Government have always said that in so far as is possible the Ministry of Defence would redeploy soldiers rather than make them redundant when a battalion was withdrawn.
Consequently I asked the Ministry of Defence how many members of the Second Battalion of Fusiliers have been issued with redundancy notices.
I have today been notified that since 2010 35 personnel have been selected for redundancy and of these 31 had applied for redundancy. So there have been just 4 Fusiliers who would have preferred to stay in the Army who have been forced to leave.
I do not know whether any of these are from Bury but in any event I sincerely hope they will soon find alternative employment. They will be encouraged by the fact that 1.3 million new jobs have been created in the private sector since 2010 and nine out of ten who leave the armed forces find a new job within six months.
It is of course worth remembering why it is the Government have been forced to take these difficult decisions with our armed forces. The fact is that there was a £38billion black hole. The books simply did not balance and the situation was not sustainable. Our armed forces have now been put on an even keel and as the Prime Minister has announced there will be no further reductions in front line troops with future savings being found from efficiency savings.
The debate on the Fusiliers motion was excellent yesterday. John Baron in whose name the motion stood on the order paper opened the debate and set out the main reasons why the Second Battalion should be retained. There were thoughtful and sensible contributions from both sides of the House and the Minister clearly did not enjoy having to try and defend the Government’s position. The public gallery was full of former Fusiliers and the Parade and they all applauded when John had finished speaking although the security glass is so thick we can hardly hear it in the Chamber. I was delighted I was called to speak and at the end of the debate John asked if I would act as one of the tellers for the Ayes. Tellers are the people who count the number of MP’s who vote on each side. Both the Government and Opposition front benches had decided not to take part in the vote and so less than 10% of MP’s actually voted but for the record the Motion was carried by 57 votes to 3.
There is a debate today in the House of Commons on the following motion:
That this House opposes the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF); notes that 2RRF is the only infantry battalion being cut that was not initially due for disbandment on military grounds; further notes that 2RRF was instead caught by the Government’s additional criteria of only one battalion loss per regiment and no deletion of cap-badges, which has resulted in more poorly-recruited Scottish battalions being saved; further notes the social and economic costs of disbandment; and urges the Government to reverse its decision.
I have put in a request to speak in the debate and hopefully I will be called. Hundreds of retired Fusiliers will be parading through London and many will be attending the debate.