BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK Politics
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 18:09 GMT
British forces 'stretched to limit'
British troops are stationed all around the globe
The government has come under attack for over-stretching the UK's armed forces from a heavyweight alliance of a former defence secretary and an ex-forces chief.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Tom King and Lord Bramall, who was Chief of Defence Staff in the 1980s, raised their fears during a House of Lords debate.

UK service personnel
1980: 328,800
1985: 336,400
1990: 314,700
1995: 238, 600
2000: 212,700
2002: 205,700
Source DASA/MoD
Peers warned British ambitions on the world stage would have to be reined in because of the burden being place on the armed forces.

The worries come after Tony Blair said the UK could be a "force for good" in the world and a "pivotal partner".

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says 27% of the armed forces are currently deployed, only 1% higher than the level when Labour took power in 1997.

Training suffering

Lord King cast doubts on those claims as he said he was "deeply concerned" about the situation.

The army was suffering the worst from over-stretching, he said, warning that troops' training was suffering, with some 85 exercises cancelled last year.

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin
Warning: Bernard Jenkin
The Tory peer predicted valuable experienced officers would also leave the forces if they could not spend time with their forces.

"We simply will not be able to point to the priceless asset that is at present our armed forces, cherished by all parties in this house, unless we ensure that our forces are properly trained, get proper rest and recreation and time with their families.

"Then they will be able to make the commitment that is an essential part of the role that we look to them to play."

Volunteer call-up

The comments come as British military reservists are called up for compulsory active service for the first time since the Suez crisis, 45 years ago.

About 140 reservists have been told to report for specialist duties, providing intelligence for regular British troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Most will be based in London while 40 will be sent to Afghanistan.

Mr Hoon says 74 reservists "volunteered" to join forces in Afghanistan but a "compulsory call out" was necessary to provide support for the deployment.

British troop commitments
Falkland Islands
Sierra Leone

Lord Bramall urged attention be given to the state of the armed forces medical services "as a matter of urgency".

Labour had inherited the problem of a mass exodus of personnel over time but had failed to reverse the flow, he argued.

Unless that situation changed, the use of UK troops as a force for good aboard would not be safe and should not even be contemplated, continued Lord Bramall.

When Lord Bramall stood down as forces chief in 1985 there were 336,400 British service personnel, compared to the 205,700 now.

The Conservatives are trying to up the pressure on the government through the House of Lords debate.

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin says 1,800 men are being sent to lead the multi-national security force at a time when the forces are shrinking, and servicemen are being put under strain.

Mr Jenkin said the call-up of volunteers represented "another new major commitment" which was over-stretching the under-funded armed forces.

'Conservative confusion'

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman David Laws said it was true the armed forces were stretched but he branded the Tory stance "confused and opportunistic".

"The Tories have a commitment to cut government spending," said Mr Laws.

"Bernard Jenkin's comments leave it completely unclear whether the Tories are arguing for higher defence spending, or simply suggesting that Britain should fail to play a part in international peacekeeping."

British troops are stationed in a variety of locations around the globe including Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus, Brunei, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Sierra Leone, with military teams or advisers in 25 countries.

The government has already been warned by former chiefs of staff, including Lord Guthrie, who said the armed forces were becoming "dangerously over-committed" and "increasingly over-stretched".

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"I am absolutely confident we can do the job"
Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin
"Its not sustainable in the long term"
See also:

16 Oct 01 | UK
MoD call up reservists
18 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Hoon moves to calm defence fears
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories