HC Deb 15 July 1964 vol 698 cc1181-3
15. Mr. Holland

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the part the Royal Air Force has played since the beginning of the operations in Borneo.

66. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the part played by the Royal Air Force in the military operations that have taken place in Borneo up till the present.

Mr. II. Fraser

Up to the end of June. Royal Air Force transport aircraft had carried between Singapore and Borneo more than 32,000 men and 2,700 tons of stores as well as many helicopters, light aircraft and more than 350 vehicles and trailers. In the forward areas helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft have given continuous and indeed life giving support to our troops by the transport of men and supplies. The Royal Air Force has also provided fighter protection over Borneo and maritime reconnaissance along the coasts. I feel sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the high degree of competence and efficiency displayed by all ranks in conditions which are often of testing difficulty.

Mr. Holland

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Press has every facility for publicising adequately the fine record of the Royal Air Force? Would he agree that very great credit is due to the men who work under these very difficult climatic conditions to keep the aircraft serviceable as well as to those who fly them in danger with great courage, skill and tenacity of purpose?

Mr. Fraser

I want to do everything I can about Press facilities. If journalists fly out from here, I will see that they are given the full facilities of Transport Command. Secondly, I fully agree with my hon. Friend that the task of maintaining aircraft in these extreme conditions of heat is a formidable one which has been carried out with great cheerfulness by all ranks.

Mr. Cronin

While I agree about the admirable devotion and efficiency of the Royal Air Force under difficult conditions, may I ask whether it is not the case that it has been grievously handicapped by the lack of helicopters? Is it not the Government's fault that operational requirements were not made for helicopters years ago when this deficiency could easily have been foreseen?

Mr. Fraser

With respect, I think that this can be greatly exaggerated. Every mission asked for has been carried out either by the Royal Air Force or by the Royal Navy. As the hon. Gentleman must know, by the end of this year the size of our tactical lift force will almost have been doubled. Of course, there is always a demand for helicopters. It is natural that one should ride rather than walk and fly rather than ride, but at the same time I believe that by the better utilisation of these aircraft we are meeting all the military demands from the ground.

Captain Litchfield

If journalists are being flown out by Transport Command to see the operations in Borneo, can Members of Parliament also get passages?

Mr. Fraser

Yes. I think there is a group of Parliamentarians going out; but certainly I will ask my right hon. Friend about this. I am sure that it could be arranged.

Mr. Healey

While wishing to associate the whole Opposition with the tributes paid both to the maintenance staff and flying staff of the Royal Air Force in Borneo, I should like to press the right hon. Gentleman on the question of Air Force Wessexes. Is there any plan for increasing the number of these in Borneo, because it seems to be the agreed view of all the Army personnel involved that they could do with a substantial increase?

Mr. Fraser

I could not go into detail, but we have made a considerable increase. A considerable number of Scout helicopters is going out to relieve the heavier tactical lift stuff from doing what is really a reconnaissance and officer-carrying rôle. I am sure that the key answer to this is the better utilisation of what we have. We are improving the means of contact—perhaps the hon. Gentleman saw this when he was out there—between remote patrols and the helicopters. This saves an enormous amount of time. Helicopters can go straight down instead of wasting time flying over impenetrable jungle.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is also answering Question No. 65?

Mr. Speaker