HC Deb 04 July 1995 vol 263 cc131-2
8. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the United Kingdom's front-line infantry strength; and what it was in 1990. [30562]

Mr. Soames

On 1 April 1995, the total trained strength of the infantry was about 27,000; on 1 April 1990 it was about 35,900. These figures exclude 2,000 Gurkhas, 2,000 Royal Marines and 1,250 soldiers from all other arms deployed in the infantry role.

Mr. Pawsey

My hon. Friend has a distinguished service record in a distinguished regiment, and is therefore knowledgeable in these matters. Does he really believe that the infantry strength announced to the House today is enough to ensure the security of the United Kingdom and to enable us, at the same time, to discharge our international obligations?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. Over the past two years, he has rightly taken a close interest in these matters. We believe that the Army is large enough to meet its commitments. The numerical strength of the Army should not be regarded as the primary measure of front-line strength. Its operational capability is of prime importance. It has never been better equipped, motivated or trained. I am wholly confident that it can undertake all the tasks to which it is assigned. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support.

Mr. Simpson

Does the Minister agree that it is in our national interests to equip our infantry with our own equipment? Is he aware that the royal ordnance factory in Nottingham is now the only small arms manufacturer and developer in the UK, increasingly dependent on how the Government decide to allocate their procurement policies? Does he accept that it is in our national interest to ensure that our infantry is equipped on a strategic basis rather than by the equivalent of a pick 'n' mix counter at Woolworth's?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman grossly over-exaggerates to make a point. I pay tribute to the Royal Ordnance company, a subsidiary of British Aerospace, which does a remarkable job in providing excellent equipment for our forces. I reiterate that our forces have never been better equipped. I am quite satisfied that they have everything that they need. Of course my right hon. and learned Friend will ensure that, whatever they can buy plainly from British suppliers which is cost-competitive and exactly meets their needs, will be bought.

Sir Michael Neubert

What effect does my hon. Friend think it would have on the strength of our front-line infantry if, as reported, homosexuals were to be admitted to Her Majesty's armed forces? Is there any truth in the front-page story in yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful that my hon. Friend has raised that matter. I believe that the effect on our armed forces would be extremely serious. I want to take this opportunity to say that the reports in yesterday's press that Ministers had decided to review the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces were wholly inaccurate. There has been no such decision.