HC Deb 18 December 1973 vol 866 cc1121-3
4. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of State for Defence what plans he has for reducing the scale and number of military exercises in Scotland in the interests of fuel economy.

9. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of State for Defence what instructions have been given to the Armed Services for the conservation of oil supplies.

14. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Minister of State for Defence what recent instructions he has issued to the Armed Services, and in particular the Royal Air Force, about the need to conserve fuel.

Mr. Kershaw

I refer the hon. Members to the statement I made during the defence debate on 12th December.—[Vol. 866, c. 531.]

Mr. Hamilton

Has the hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the article in the Scottish Sunday Mail of 2nd December, in which it was indicated that defence exercises which had taken place during the previous week had consumed an estimated 2 million gallons of fuel? Will he undertake to stop this sort of thing forthwith? Can he tell us whether the aircraft sent to Glasgow from London in order to bring the Foreign Secretary back for a dinner in London was a military plane, how much fuel it used, and whether he will stop that sort of thing as well?

Mr. Kershaw

I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the last point he raised. He referred to military exercises, and I remind him that it is necessary to keep our forces in a state of operational efficiency. While the exercises that the hon. Gentleman mentioned were looked at in particular, nevertheless it was decided that in the interests of efficiency they should go ahead.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend refute the argument of 100 or so Labour Members who have tabled an early-day motion urging restriction of low-flying exercises? Is he aware that this is already done as much as practicable? Can he make those hon. Members aware that in the interests of flight safety, let alone operational efficiency, these exercises must continue?

Mr. Kershaw

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for what he has said. As I said in the defence debate last week, low-flying exercises are carried out no more than we can avoid because we know what a nuisance low flying is. Therefore, the room for further reduction is correspondingly small. It is certainly necessary to continue with low flying in the interests of operational capability and efficiency.

Mr. John Morris

While no one would question the need to keep the forces in a high degree of efficiency, is not the hon. Gentleman concerned that the forces are not carrying a proper share of the necessary fuel cuts, particularly in low flying, which is causing such great inconvenience—and this at a time when factories are to go on a three-day week in the New Year?

Mr. Kershaw

As I pointed out last week, we intend to try to achieve a 10 per cent. overall reduction, but there are some areas in which we do not feel it right, in the interests of national defence, to make cuts of that size. It may mean that overall we do not achieve the full 10 per cent., but we shall keep a close watch on the situation.

8. Mr. Strang

asked the Minister of State for Defence what representation he has received about the consumption of quantities of fuel through military exercises following the Government's appeal to the public to cut back on energy consumption.

Mr. Kershaw

Several hon. Members have put down Questions and there is the early-day motion on the Order Paper. There have also been a few representations from members of the public.

Mr. Strang

Notwithstanding his earlier replies, it is a little disconcerting that the Minister suggests that he may not even be able to achieve a cut of 10 per cent. in fuel consumption. Will he outline the areas in which he feels it will not be possible to achieve a 10 per cent. reduction?

Mr. Kershaw

They are the areas where operationally it is undesirable to impose limits, such as Northern Ireland and areas in which a high degree of training is necessary to enable us to fulfil our operational rôle.

Mr. Soref

In view of the increasing murderous activities of traitors in Ulster and their agents nearer home up to and including today, may we have my hon. Friend's assurance that there will be no economy whatsoever that can affect the security of the people of this country and the defences of the nation?

Mr. Kershaw

I assure my hon. Friend that it is those duties that we have in mind in the allocation of fuel.