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banner Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Hoon attacks Tory defence record
Sierra Leone troops
Mr Hoon defended sending troops to Sierra Leone
The Conservatives presided over cuts in Britain's armed forces and failures of vital defence equipment, the Labour conference has heard.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon launched a savage attack on the Tories' record on defence management and spending.

Hague's tax guarantee is now Portillo's cuts guarantee

Geoff Hoon
But Labour was investing an extra 1.25bn over the next four years, and putting right Conservative bungles, he said.

Delegates in Brighton heard Mr Hoon pay tribute to the British soldier killed in Sierra Leone. But he defended the government's decision to send troops to the country, initially to help British nationals flee fighting, then to provide training and support to the national army.

"There are always risks involved in any mission," he said. "But that will not deflect us from doing what is right."

Tories blamed for scandals

Mr Hoon said Labour's investment in the armed forces would put right problems inherited from the Tories.

And he attacked the opposition's tax and spending plans, saying defence cuts would pay for tax breaks for a privileged few.

Kosovo troops
Troops in Kosovo used rifles found to jam
"Hague's tax guarantee is now Portillo's cuts guarantee. The Common Sense Revolution is dead. Portillo's counter-revolution has begun."

Scandals over rifles that jam and radios that fail were the fault of the Conservatives who bought the equipment, but Labour was putting them right, he said.

"So we will take no lectures about waste in defence from the Tories - the people who left us with a massive 3.25bn cost overrun on the 25 most expensive equipment projects," he said.

The Conservatives, Mr Hoon said, had cut army numbers, scrapped regiments, cut troops' medical support and cut the defence budget.

But the government had reinstated regiments and ploughed money into support services.

Mr Hoon won applause when he pledged that British forces would never again lay anti-personnel landmines and when he said Labour had more than doubled spending on Gulf War veterans research.

"This country faces a clear choice on defence: between a Conservative Party that cut the size of the army when it was in power, and a Labour goverment that is committed to increasing the army by an extra 3,000 personnel," he said.

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