Conservatives plan armed forces investment

Conservative leader Michael Howard has announced plans to boost investment in the UK's armed forces, if they should get back into power.

Delivering a keynote speech on defence in Blackpool, Mr Howard criticised Labour's defence policy. He said: "Anybody who has given serious thought to the threats we face today could not conclude that we currently have enough soldiers in the infantry. But Labour have let Armed Forces manning levels drop 3000 below establishment. On top of that, the Government has announced a further cut in our infantry levels of four battalions. What a stab in the back for the men and women Mr Blair sends into the line of fire."

Mr Howard also claimed that there were not enough warships and also highlighted the recent case of the Chinook helicopters, purchased by the Ministry of Defence, which had remained grounded. He joked: "Things are so bad that it's probably only a question of time before the crossed swords of the Army's emblem are replaced by Tony Blair's crossed fingers."

During his speech, Mr Howard promised to provide the military "with the resources to carry out the job we ask them to do."

He declared: "Conservatives value our service men and women. We trust them to get the job done. We trust them with our security. That is why a Conservative government will save the regiments being cut by Labour, will save the three Type 23 frigates being cut by Labour, and why a Conservative government will spend £2.7 billion more on front-line defence than Labour."

However, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon hit back at the criticisms, claiming that the Labour government had delivered "the largest sustained increases in defence spending for twenty years". He also said that the Conservatives had cut planned defence spending by 15% during their last years in power, between 1994-97.

Mr Hoon said: "Labour is investing the latest battle-winning equipment for our Armed Forces including the biggest shipbuilding order for generations, new fast jets for the RAF and the very latest technology for our soldiers."

He added: "The Tories can have no credibility on defence when they are committed to cut £35 billion from public spending and cut planned defence spending when they were in office."


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