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banner Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Pledge to strengthen TA

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith has promised that the Tories would increase the strength of the Territorial Army if they won the next election.

Mr Duncan Smith told conference that the Army was 8,000 men understrength and overstretched.

He said that full manning would be a priority, including returning the TA to its full effectiveness and restoring its important place in support of the regular forces.

Mr Duncan Smith's point was echoed by junior defence spokesman Robert Key.

Political correctness

Mr Key commented on reports that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is ready to allow women to serve in frontline roles because of numerical shortages.

A Conservative government would "remember that operational effectiveness comes first. It is much more important than political correctness.

"Women in the front line sounds very different under fire in the heat of battle. Political correctness should not be forced on our forces," he said.

Mr Duncan Smith also attacked Labour over its management of the country's defences.

"The Armed Forces have 5,000 fewer servicemen and women than they did when we left office," Mr Duncan Smith said, "That's the equivalent of 10 Army battalions or 20 destroyer crews.

"This is defence of the realm, Labour style."

He told his audience about serious failings in the armed forces, with exercises being cancelled and soldiers being sent into action with guns that did not work.

Support for NMDS

Mr Duncan Smith also promised Conservative support for the US's controversial national missile defence system.

"A Conservative gvernment will support the Americans in their development of defences against weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Labour was "running away" on the issue and instead "playing games" with plans for a Euro Army.

Thus was something the Tories would put paid to, said Mr Duncan Smith: "We want to improve European defence capabilities - but within Nato, never outside it."

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