Former military chiefs mount fierce assault

Gordon Brown came under intense fire from an alliance of former military chiefs as they issued warnings that the Ministry of Defence was facing "blood on the floor" because of budget cuts.

Five former chiefs of the defence staff spoke out furiously in the House of Lords as they pummelled Mr Brown and his Government for failing to back Britain's armed forces. Their joint assault heaped yet more pressure on the Prime Minister, at the end of a torrid week for his administration.

The defence chiefs who led British forces into Iraq, Kosovo, and the first Gulf war joined other former senior officers to deliver repeated salvos against the Prime Minister, one describing Mr Brown as the "most unsympathetic chancellor" he had encountered.

Admiral Lord Boyce, who as chief of the defence staff led Britain's forces into Iraq, was joined by Lord Craig of Radley, the former head of the RAF who was chief of the defence staff during the first Gulf war, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, Lord Guthrie, who led British forces during the invasion of Kosovo, and Field Marshal Lord Inge.

They demanded increased spending on the forces and criticised the Government for breaking the military covenant between the nation and its service personnel. Mr Brown also came under sustained criticism for appointing Defence Secretary Des Browne as Scottish Secretary as well as his role at the MoD.

Lord Boyce, attacked the Government for using "smoke and mirrors" to cover cuts in defence spending.

He told peers: "This negative budget is why if you go to the Ministry of Defence today you will find blood on the floor as the defence programme is slashed to meet the desperate funding situation."

He added: "We are seriously endangering our people because of the lack of money being given to equip, train and properly support those in the second line preparing to rotate to the front line."

Lord Guthrie, said that senior officers, including the present Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, had been forced to speak out about underfunding of the services. He said Mr Brown had been "the most unsympathetic Chancellor of the Exchequer, as far as defence was concerned, and was the only senior cabinet minister who avoided coming to the Ministry of Defence, to be briefed by our staff about our problems."

He added: "He must take much of the blame for the very serious situation in which we find the services today." Lord Craig demanded to know: "Is it not immoral to commit forces that are underprepared and ill-equipped for their task?"

Lord Bramall, who was chief of the defence staff in the early 1980s, added: "The Army is just not large enough to the tune of several thousand men. The Government must initiate a surge in what it spends on the armed forces. If there is no surge at all, the situation will get infinitely worse."

Field Marshal Lord Inge condemned Mr Browne's split role in Government. He said: "He is known to some of the military as 'Two-jobs Des'. It is a very bad message to send to the armed forces."

He warned that morale could suffer if service personnel and their families did not feel valued. He said: "This is particularly so when they're very heavily committed. Morale is still high in Iraq and Afghanistan but it can go very quickly and they do need to feel that the Government is really behind them."

But Baroness Taylor of Bolton, a Defence minister, defended the Government's record. She said: "We have had the longest period of sustained real-terms growth in planned defence expenditure since the 1980s.

"We have been able to maintain a great deal of defence spending, while raising budgets in other areas. This country's spending on defence is the second highest in the world being behind the US only."