'No decision yet' on Army lay-offs

The Government has played down reports that 8,000 troops are to be made redundant after Christmas.

The Mail on Sunday newspaper suggested that an acceleration in Army cutbacks would see notices sent out in the festive period.

But a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokeswoman insisted that no decision has been taken on timings for the latest tranche of lay-offs.

The coalition announced last year that the Army's strength will be slashed by a fifth to 82,000 by the end of the decade. A reduction of 8,000 early next year would leave the number at around 86,000, believed to its smallest size since the 1700s.

Soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan and those serving on the front line in January would be safe from the mooted cull. No redundancy notices would be posted to Camp Bastion.

The MoD spokeswoman said: "The size and timing of any future redundancies has yet to be determined. However, we aim to remove uncertainty for Army personnel and their families as soon as possible. Difficult decisions have had to be taken to deal with the multibillion-pound black hole in the defence budget."

MoD sources said that decisions on timing depend on how many troops are needed in Afghanistan up until the end of 2014. They also dismissed as "nonsense" a suggestion that Army officers could be forced to retire at age 45, 10 years earlier than is currently the case.

Tory MP and Defence Select Committee member Julian Brazier said the move would remove thousands of senior officers and save up to £144 million a year.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the number of overseas recruits in the Army has hit a new record of more than 12,000. Some 2,200 Fijians, 870 South Africans and 800 Ghanaians are among the Commonwealth nationals serving.

It also has a brigade of 3,680 Gurkhas, recruited in Nepal, according to freedom of information figures released to The Sun newspaper.