HC Deb 22 June 1972 vol 839 cc699-700
21. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Minister of State for Defence what arrangements have been made by the Army to ensure that troops have the necessary training to drive lorries, load containers, drive railway engines, act as signalmen and to operate overhead cranes should Her Majesty's Government decide to use troops for this purpose during an industrial dispute.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith)

The Army does not carry out any training specifically to fit soldiers for use in an industrial dispute. If, however, it should at any time prove necessary to use Servicemen to protect the public interest, certain military skills possessed by soldiers might be suitable.

Mr. Atkinson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread disquiet throughout industry and the suspicions that the Army is being specially trained to undertake tasks as strike-breakers, and is being trained specially for the handling of dock equipment, so that more than the numbers of troops previously known to have this sort of experience could be used to break an industrial dispute on the docks and the railways?

Mr. Johnson Smith

The allegation made by the hon. Member is completely without foundation. It is true of course that the Army has men skilled in the use of cranes, as in other pursuits with a civilian application, but they are not trained for the purpose of strike-breaking. I never heard a more ridiculous accusation in my life.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Would my hon. Friend accept that the public interest is more important than the views of a militant minority?

Hon. Members


Mr. Heffer

Since the Minister is not answering his hon. Friend, will he try to overcome such difficulties as might arise as a result of the sort of position that my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) has described by agreeing that the time has come for members of the Armed Forces to be allowed to join a trade union, as is allowed in West Germany, so that that union could then affiliate to the TUC? Would not this be one of the biggest advances in the democratisation of the Armed Forces?

Mr. Johnson Smith

That question is very far reaching. If the hon. Member wants an answer, he had better put down a Question.

Sir Gilbert Longden

May I give my hon. Friend a further opportunity to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)? It surely cannot be too difficult to say that the public interest outweighs that of any minority, militant or not.

Mr. Johnson Smith

Yes indeed. I intended no discourtesy to my hon. Friend. I think it is self-evident.