Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Thursday, 18 October 2012 15:19 UK

MPs demand battalion cuts U-turn

MPs have condemned government plans to disband the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and called on ministers to reverse the decision.

The Commons voted on 18 October 2012 to pass a backbench motion urging a rethink of the plans by 57 votes to three, a majority of 54.

Introducing the debate Conservative MP John Baron - a former captain in the Fusiliers - claimed the move was down to "political calculations".

He said the regiment had been "felled" to save more "poorly-recruited" Scottish battalions ahead of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Any cuts to the army should be based on "military logic" and not "borne out of the misguided view this will somehow help maintain the union", he said.

Mr Baron stressed he was not "pointing the finger" at other regiments but instead making the case for reprioritising government spending.

As he concluded his speech, applause could be heard through the glass screen shielding the chamber from the public gallery.

'Wrong decision'

The battalion has served in every major campaign since 1674, but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) says the proposal to disband it in 2014 is part of plans to "modernise" the army.

The 600 officers and soldiers of the battalion are currently based in northern Germany, but are training in preparation for operations in 2013, when they will be based in Cyprus.

Several MPs branded the plans to axe the regiment as "illogical" and "one of the worst decisions made in politics".

Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick-Upon-Tweed, said it was the "wrong decision" for the "wrong results" for the "wrong efficiency" of the army.

Labour MP for North Tyneside, Mary Glindon, told the Commons that north-east England was a major recruiting ground for the regiment.

There was a fear the referendum "will see the government favour Scotland over the north-east" in order to maintain the union, she said.

Meanwhile, Conservative Gerald Howarth - until recently a minister at the MoD - called for government spending to be reprioritised.

"My view is we cannot justify spending ever more taxpayers' money on overseas aid and cutting our Armed Forces," he said.

'Dire' finances

Shadow defence minister Kevan Jones said serious questions must be asked about the criteria to disband the battalion.

He claimed battalions had been axed for "short-term savings without any coherent strategy for the armed forces".

Until ministers explain their reasoning it will be very difficult for the government to have any credibility on defence, he said.

Defence Minister Andrew Robathan told MPs the government had arrived at its decisions after a "great deal" of consideration and analysis.

He said the coalition faced a dire financial situation when taking office, with a £38bn black hole in the MoD's budget.

"We had to deal with that hole in the budget if we want to put the defence of this nation on a sound and sustainable footing."

He insisted ministers were making "no plans" on the basis of an independent Scotland because the government "firmly" believes the "majority" of Scottish people will reject independence.

Mr Baron said he was not satisfied with the minister's argument and branded the plans "an utter nonsense", before calling a vote on the motion.

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