THE Archbishop of York has warned defence cuts "risk the safety of the nation and the peace of the world" in a pre-Christmas message for soldiers serving overseas and their families.

In an interview with the British Forces Broadcasting Service, Dr John Sentamu said he was praying every day for members of the armed forces and the whole country should remember the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made.

The Archbishop has close links with the Yorkshire Regiment, ten of whose soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, and described its members as "the bravest of the brave".

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said 20,000 regular soldiers will be shed from the army by 2020, with the Territorial Army set to double in size from 15,000 to 30,000 and be renamed the Army Reserves.

"My greatest anxiety, really, is that these defence cuts need to be done with far, far greater sensitivity, because we live still in a world that is very fragile and there are people out there still wanting to do harm to many, many people," he said in the interview.

"To replace professionally-trained, full-time serving soldiers with part-timers, I'm afraid, for me, I don't think that can be the backbone of the British Army. So I hope whatever cuts and changes they make, our regiment in Yorkshire will not suffer greatly because they are the bravest of the brave and I've seen these guys in action.

"I always think that if you have got a very well-trained, professional service, you have got to keep it at the highest level. Whatever financial constraints we are facing, I know the phrase is 'we are all in this together', but it shouldn't mean risking the safety of the nation and the peace of the world by severe cuts, because in the long run you do not know what is around the corner.

"So I would say, whatever reduction you are making, don't think just now - ask yourself in 30 years' time, would we still have an efficient, professional armed forces? If you haven't, then I have got to advice against reduction right now, because in the future we may suddenly find ourselves engaged in warfare you have never even contemplated we would be doing."

Dr Sentamu said he was not "underestimating the bravery of the Territorial Army", which he said did "a great job". but added: "Somebody who's training day in, day out to be very fit for this particular professional type of job, they can't be replaced by part-timers."

He said the Yorkshire Regiment was "constantly in my heart", saying: "I am trying to give them a lot of encouragement, but they are all very brave, so what do you say to a very brave person who puts their life on the line?

"You look in their faces and you see these are determined, very professional people who are going out. So I hope that for the families, for the realm and its peace, for this country, our armed forces will be treated with such great respect."

The Ministry of Defence has declined to respond to Dr Sentamu's comments.