Army to be cut despite concern

THE GOVERNMENT has announced that it is going ahead with its planned cuts in the strength of the Army, in spite of the concern expressed by the cross-party House of Commons Select Committee on Defence.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, said yesterday that the Government would review force levels 'should it judge that to be necessary'.

The cuts were defended in a response to the committee report published with the White Paper. The MoD said that the defence plans were 'carefully structured to provide forces relevant to the security challenges of the mid- 1990s and beyond'.

But Mr Rifkind also pointed out that the defence committee had not made any recommendations in its report published on 6 March, a month before the general election.

Labour leaders protested last night that the committee had 'pulled its punches'. The report was drafted by the then committee chairman, Michael Mates, who had to secure the support of both Tory and Labour members of the committee.

The report was potentially controversial, coming before an election in which defence might have been an important issue. A month later, Mr Mates was promoted to Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, responsible for security, including the armed forces.

The committee warned that the plan to reduce the number of battalions from 55 to 36 would leave the Army 5 or 6 battalions - about 3,000 troops - under strength.

It also called on the Government to find money to pay for the ceremonial duties of the Household Cavalry. The Government rejected the demand for additional resources for ceremonial duties. It noted the committee's concerns but said it wanted to reassure the MPs that 'whilst ways of reducing the public duties commitment continue to be considered in line with the reductions in the size of the Army, nothing will be done which puts security or major ceremonial at risk'.