HC Deb 17 April 1973 vol 855 cc247-8
13. Mr. Wilkinson

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the future equipment and rôle of the Royal Naval Reserve.

The Under-Secsretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Antony Buck)

The Royal Naval Reserve is an indispensable part of the Navy. As stated in the Defence White Paper, it provides crews for 11 minesweepers and supports maritime and other headquarters in communications, naval control of shipping and other tasks. In addition the Royal Naval Reserve provides a nucleus of naval expertise within the ships of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. No change in these rôles is envisaged. The coastal minesweepers are planned to remain in service into the 1980s.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I suggest that the continuance of the minesweeping rôle as opposed to a transfer to the mine-hunting rôle for the RNR is somewhat to be regretted? Will my hon. Friend consider the adoption of another rôle for the RNR with fast patrol boats, missile-equipped, which would do much to increase the morale of the force and would also augment our coastal forces, which at present are very inadequate?

Mr. Buck

I shall consider the first part of my hon. Friend's question. As for the second part, at this stage I cannot hold out any hope, in view of the decision by an earlier administration, about the sort of craft of which my hon. Friend speaks.

Mr. Judd

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that within the Reserve there is anxiety about reports that the Government may be considering the use of helicopters in future mine-clearing operations? Is he able to clarify thinking on this issue?

Mr. Buck

That is a rather different issue. I have not in my encounters with the Reserve found there to be any low morale. Recruiting is not bad. The Reserve is only 5 per cent. below strength. If there are anxieties about the rôle of helicopters, I have not heard of them. I will look into the matter. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me know where his information comes from.

Mr. Wall

Can my hon. Friend say that when the present minesweepers are replaced, as they must be fairly soon, they will be replaced by ships which will give the Royal Naval Reserve an active sea-going rôle?

Mr. Buck

As I indicated earlier, it is anticipated that the Ton class craft will continue until the 1980s. We are considering the options open to us regarding replacements.