HC Deb 26 March 1969 vol 780 cc1609-11
26. Mr. Roebuck

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will send a detachment of Royal Engineers to Anguilla on a training exercise with the object of providing the islanders with roads, an airstrip, drainage, an electricity supply and other basic services.

Mr. Healey

Yes, Sir. Men of 33 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, will be flying to Anguilla tomorrow to undertake a variety of tasks aimed at improving general living conditions on the island.

Mr. Roebuck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is a satisfactory Answer, but that he could make it much more satisfactory if he would say that there would be many more Royal Engineers going there? Does he not see a tremendous opportunity, both to give men of the Royal Engineers worth-while training, and to provide some worth-while amenities for the people of this unfortunate island?

Mr. Healey

My hon. Friend must recognise that we have had a reconnaissance group from the squadron concerned having a look at what needs to be done on the island. The 70 men now being flown out will be able to carry out that work. If there is a case thereafter for continuing it on a different basis we shall consider that. Men of the Royal Engineers, and other Army units are doing this type of work all over the world and it is a question of priorities.

Mr. Luard

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the use being made of the Royal Engineers in this particular situation is an admirable justification of the emphasis that has recently been laid on civil support operation by the Forces?

Mr. Healey

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is indeed the case, and hon. Members on both sides will recognise the political as well as military importance of winning the support of the local population in this type of situation by doing constructive work through Her Majesty's Forces.

Sir C. Osborne

How much will this cost, roughly?

Mr. Healey

I am afraid that I cannot say until we have a clearer idea of precisely what these men will be doing. The incremental cost, the cost of them doing work there rather than doing training work elsewhere, will not be large.

Mr. Shinwell

While the decision to send a detachment of Royal Engineers to Anguilla is satisfactory, as far as it goes, can my right hon. Friend explain why this was not done before? Are we to understand that it is only when trouble occurs that we take action of this kind?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will recognise that this is not the case. As I have announced on many occasions, men of the Royal Enginers and other Army units have done this type of work all over the world. There was a strikingly successful example in the Caribbean recently, in the Virgin Islands, with the construction of an air strip at Beef Island.

29 and 30. Mr. Macdonald

asked the Secretary of State for Defence (1) with what devices containing C.S. gas British troops in Anguilla are equipped; and in what quantities;

(2) with what weapons for discharging devices containing C.S. gas British troops in Anguilla are equipped; and in what country these weapons were manufactured.

Mr. Healey

Pistols, 1½ inch, which can fire a C.S. gas cartridge and C.S. grenades, form a normal part of the equipment of troops being sent abroad on internal security duties. Accordingly, some 25 pistols, 1,890 C.S. cartridges and 330 C.S. grenades were taken to Anguilla and could be issued to the troops should the need arise. The equipment is manufactured in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Macdonald

What instructions have been given to the troops about the circumstances in which these devices may be used, and in what respects do those instructions differ from the instructions given to the police in this country about the circumstances in which similar devices may be used here?

Mr. Healey

My hon. Friend will not expect me to be familiar with the instructions given to the police in this country, but the instructions given to Her Majesty's Forces who are issued with these devices are not to use them except under extreme provocation in circumstances in which the only alternative is the use of other means of restraint which might cause more physical damage than the use of C.S. The reason why we were able to deal with extremely violent civil disturbances in Hong Kong and Cyprus in the past with so little loss of life was the ability to use this type of weapon rather than guns and machine guns, as were used in similar situations in the past.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Would not supplies of laughing gas have been more appropriate for this particular episode?

Mr. Dalyell

Would my right hon. Friend, together with his senior scientific advisers, send for the results of experiments done at Innisfail, Queensland, in hot wet conditions under the quadrapartite agreement, study them, and then make a statement to the House on the toxicity of C.S. gas on isolated tropical peoples, the old and the sick who are not used to contamination?

Mr. Healey

We study all the results we can make available to ourselves from experiments in the use of this gas. In the past I have given the House many details of the conclusions we have reached. Hon. Members are free to visit the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment at Porton on any of the open days which are now regularly arranged. This type of gas is used only as an alternative to methods which involve a very much greater risk to life and limb. We must welcome the fact that this much more humane alternative is available.

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