Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Thursday, 26 January 2012

Senior MP speaks out against defence 'contradiction'

Britain should cut its military ambitions in line with its defence budget, the chair of the Commons defence committee has said.

Opening a backbench debate on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), Conservative MP James Arbuthnot said there was "a clear contradiction" between ministers' claims the UK's power would not wane, and cuts to departmental budgets.

He urged ministers to abandon their aspirations amid shrinking forces and finances, despite the UK's proud military past.

"We have huge ambitions to match that history, but what we do not have to match our lofty ambitions anymore are the resources required to back that up," he told MPs.

The government unveiled its review of the armed forces, designed to tackle a £38bn black hole in the Ministry of Defence's budget, in October 2010.

It included measures such as scrapping a new fleet of Nimrod planes, mothballing one of two yet-to-be-built aircraft carriers and making thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen redundant.

Mr Arbuthnot said he had "no objection" to defence having to "bear its brunt" of the deficit.

"But to pretend that while we are reducing our resources for defence we can be as strong in armed forces terms as we were before is, I believe, wrong."

Responding, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that restoring sound public finances was as much of an imperative for defence as it was for the economy.

"Without a strong economy and sound public finances, it is impossible to sustain in the long term, the military capability required to project power and maintain defence," he told MPs.

Mr Hammond claimed the defence programme left by the previous Labour government was a "shambles", and said ministers were trying to oversee the delivery of a "realistic" programme.

He said he regretted "in particular" the cuts in personnel required to deliver the rebalancing, saying the decision was neither "easy or popular".

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said his party would continue to support the government when it believed it was acting in the national interest.

But he said the SDSR had set the country's defence policy on "an uncertain path" and called for a "re-think".

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell, whose Colchester constituency is home to a large army garrison, warned that morale in the armed forces was low.

Former army colonel Bob Stewart agreed, telling MPs that boosting troops' morale should be the government's "top priority".

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