Earlier today in the House of Commons, Liam Fox clashed with his opposite number after The Sun revealed the sacking of 38 long-serving soldiers via email and, yesterday, The Telegraph reported that a quarter of the RAF's trainee pilots were to be "culled".
Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for Defence: "As a result of the strategic defence and security review and the comprehensive spending review, it has, sadly, been necessary to plan for redundancies in both the civil service and the armed forces. At all times this should be done with sensitivity to individuals concerned, and with an understanding of the impact that it will have on them and their families. There are two recent cases in which this has not happened. Let me deal with them both.
- First, there are the 38 Army personnel who have received an e-mail, as reported in today’s press. This is a completely unacceptable way to treat anyone, not least our armed forces. The correct procedure was not followed. I regret this, and want to reiterate the unreserved apology already made by the Army and on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. Arrangements have already been put in place to ensure that it does not happen again, and the Army are already investigating the particular circumstances.
- Secondly, there is the redundancy of trainee RAF pilots. It was always going to be the case that with fewer airframes we would need fewer pilots. The fact that people found out through the publication of inaccurate details in a national newspaper will, I am sure, be deprecated on both sides of the House, and can only cause the individuals concerned undue distress. I understand the concerns of those facing redundancy, and I understand the temptation of the Opposition to exploit issues for political advantage, but I hope that with issues as sensitive as individual redundancies, we can refrain from making a sad situation worse for the individuals and their families."
Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence: "Yesterday I came to the House to support strongly the Government’s actions on Afghanistan, but today we are here for an entirely different reason: the revelation that dozens of soldiers with decades of service have been sacked by e-mail. It is a shame that Ministers had to be summoned to the Commons, when they should have immediately asked to come here voluntarily. We all know that we cannot stop every redundancy in the armed forces, but this is no way to treat soldiers who have served in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Secretary of State says that we should not play politics with such issues. Sacking anyone by e-mail is always wrong; sacking members of our armed forces in that way is utterly unforgiveable. But, unfortunately, as the Secretary of State says, a pattern is developing. One hundred RAF trainee pilots were sacked by media leak, some only hours away from getting their wings. What is worse about this sordid affair is that the Government’s response has been to blame everyone else. In the morning it was the Army’s fault; by lunchtime it was a civil servant’s fault. But it was not the Army that decided to cut the deficit this far and this fast; it was not a civil servant who decided to go into a rushed defence review. It is the Government’s fault. They are locked into a logic of rapid deficit reduction, which means that mistakes are being made, some of them serious… In all these matters there is a fine line between callousness and complacency. This was a callous event; the Government’s response this morning was complacent. They must act, act now, and make sure that it is never repeated."
Dr Fox: "The right hon. Gentleman should stick to agreeing with the Government; he is much more impressive on such occasions. What is sad today is not just the opportunism but the utter lack of humility, because we would not have had to reduce the armed forces or the civil service to such a degree if we had not inherited from the Labour Government a black hole in the MOD budget of £38 billion and a national deficit of £158 billion… The Opposition need to ask themselves why we have to make those reductions. It is because of the incompetence and the economic inheritance that they left behind. We will set out the programme of reductions in staff—the 17,000 mentioned—over the next five years. There was a great deal of inaccurate information in the newspaper story about the RAF trainee pilots. They are being briefed individually and collectively on the specific proposals that affect them. It is appropriate that that happens in private, not on the Floor of the House of Commons."