HC Deb 22 January 1964 vol 687 cc1056-7
4. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for War what consideration he has given to the defence of troops going into action in helicopters, having regard to the heavy casualties sustained by United States and South Vietnam troops landed in operational areas in helicopters in South Vietnam.

Mr. Ramsden

Helicopters being used for carrying troops in present operations are armed and further developments are taking place in this field.

Mr. Cronin

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that this matter is pursued even further? Will he bear in mind that as increasing numbers of our young soldiers are likely to go into action in these circumstances, it is a particular responsibility of the Government to make sure that they do not become casualties needlessly?

Mr. Ramsden

Yes, Sir. I ought to make it clear that troops are carried in Royal Air Force or Royal Navy helicopters. Army helicopters are used for reconnaissance and liaison. However, we are aware of the importance of the points which the hon. Gentleman has made and we are considering improvements both in the weapons of helicopters and measures to protect the crews.

11. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Secretary of State for War how many helicopters are in service with the Army; if he is satisfied with the present numbers; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ramsden

It would be contrary to normal practice for me to disclose the number of helicopters in service in the Army. I can however say that the number is being steadily increased.

The military value of helicopters has been established beyond doubt by the experience of both our own Army and those of our Allies.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Could my right hon. Friend confirm that there is an Army requirement over the next couple of years for several hundred additional helicopters? Could he give an assurance that if an American helicopter is required it will be constructed in this country?

Mr. Ramsden

We shall continue to require more helicopters. Their procurement is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, but I know that he is well aware of the interests of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Paget

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great shortage of helicopters everywhere where the Army is serving? It is the one thing the Army needs. Is he aware that at present for reconnaissance there is the American Bell, for the medium range there is the French Alouette and, for the heavy one, the Canadian Westland, and these in their classes are miles better than anything we produce? Is he aware that the shortage is caused by the disaster of the Scout, which is an expensive failure, and that the needs of the Army will not be complied with while the Army is treated as a soup kitchen for an indigent aircraft industry?

Mr. Ramsden

I do not accept that the Scout has been a failure. It is coming into service now—it is in service in places—and it is an excellent aircraft.