Armed Forces (Overstretch)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th July 1996.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham , Coventry South East 12:00 am, 9th July 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment he has made of the extent of overstretch in the armed forces. [34910]

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Armed Services)

The armed forces are working extremely hard to meet their operational and training tasks. I am confident that our armed forces are robustly configured, well equipped and well able to meet their varied commitments around the world.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham , Coventry South East

British forces are overstretched throughout the world. Will the Minister explain why there is a shortfall of 4,000 men in the armed forces? Will he also explain the Government's incompetent handling of our defence forces?

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Armed Services)

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman mastered the brief that he was given. He asked why there is a shortfall of 4,000 men. There are many reasons, which I rehearse at every Defence questions, and I do not propose to go through them again. We believe that we handle defence matters very well, and many Governments abroad share our belief. That is marked out, for example, by the decision of the French Government to remodel their forces entirely on the English model.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Does my hon. Friend agree that search and surveillance are of the utmost importance to our defence industry? On that basis, what plans does he have to upgrade the maritime patrol aircraft?

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Armed Services)

Yes, I agree that they are important matters. The Government hope that the discussions will come to a conclusion shortly.