Army

Labour Calls On Ministers To Reveal 'Battle-Ready' Army Numbers Annually

John Healey MP said there is "serious concern" Britain’s full-time troops remain 10,000 below the total strength ministers said was needed.

Labour has called on Parliament to use the Armed Forces Bill to force ministers to disclose the number of battle-ready Army troops on an annual basis.

Speaking during second reading debate for the bill, shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “There is serious concern that Britain’s full-time Armed Forces remain 10,000 below the total strength ministers said was needed in their 2015 strategic defence review."

The amendment to the legislation was proposed by Mr Healey on Monday evening after a leaked report revealed by the Daily Mail said the Army is running low on personnel prepared for action.

The newspaper said the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) Infantry Battalion Soldier Strength Summary – January 2021 showed all but one of the Army’s infantry battalions didn’t have enough soldiers ready for combat.

It also showed the Scots Guards, which has a working requirement of 603 troops, had 339 soldiers available for operations.

Mr Healey said the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review target, set by a Conservative government, to "maintain the size" of the military and "not reduce the Army to below 82,000" had not been met.

He added there were problems with staff retention in the military, stemming from dissatisfaction with pay, housing and low morale, with full-time, fully trained Army personnel numbers shrinking from 102,200 in 2010 to 75,310 in 2020.

"There is serious concern that Britain’s Armed Forces remain 10,000 below the total strength ministers have said is needed," Mr Healey said.

"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.

"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," he added.

A leaked report showed all but one of the Army’s infantry battalions did not have enough soldiers ready for combat (Picture: MOD).

The shadow defence secretary told the Commons on Monday the Armed Forces Bill is a “big missed opportunity”.

He said although Labour supports the legislation, the party believes it should go further.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer argued the Armed Forces Bill will have “far-reaching benefits” for defence and personnel,

Mr Mercer told the Commons: “The legislation we are discussing [today] is as much about our future as about our present and our past.

“It will have far-reaching benefits for defence and for our broader service community, and it is fitting that we are reviving our pledge to our people at this time.

“Over the past 12 months they have been shoulder to shoulder in the thick of the struggle against COVID, performing Herculean tasks in support of our excellent NHS doctors and nurses.

“And perhaps no-one sums up the enduring spirit of our Armed Forces through the ages better than the late, great Captain Sir Tom Moore. Always humble, never entitled. Ever."

The leaked report showed the Scots Guards, which has a working requirement of 603 troops, had 339 soldiers available for operations.

Last week, a former UK ambassador to the US warned that further cuts to the Army could put trans-Atlantic defence relations at risk, with Washington already concerned it is too small.

Reports surfaced that the Army could be cut by 10,000 soldiers, with military bosses considering shifting to technology, such as drones, to replace manpower.

"I would be really worried about reducing further the size of the British Army," Lord Kim Darroch told the Commons Defence Committee.

"If we do this then it could potentially be quite risky to our reputation in Washington."

He added secretaries of defence in both the Trump and Obama administrations used to tell him the Army was "already too small" and it had been a "big mistake" to take numbers down to 80,000.

In November, the Prime Minister set out a £16.5bn increase in defence spending over four years as he said the UK faced a “perilous” period for global security.

An MOD spokesperson said: "The British Army achieved its target for infantry recruits last year and continues to actively recruit.

"We already publish quarterly personnel statistics and are confident the Armed Forces have both the numbers and capabilities required to protect the United Kingdom from today’s threats.

"The Integrated Review is considering future threats and capability requirements, but has not yet completed and any reporting about Army force structure is merely speculation."

Cover image: Anonymous Army recruits (Picture: British Army).