HC Deb 24 May 1974 vol 874 cc775-91

12 noon.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

The Royal Marines are a comparatively small body of men, founded as far back as 1664. They are part of the Royal Navy but serve and have served mainly as amphibious soldiers, today organised in commando units. Because of their small number, and perhaps because they fall in the dividing line between the Army and the Royal Navy, they are often overlooked in our debates. That is why we are grateful for being able to raise this subject in today's Adjournment debate.

The Royal Marines may well be overlooked in Parliament, but their battle record cannot be overlooked. Their first battle honour is, of course, Gibraltar. But in 1827 Georve IV gave them the Great Globe itself as the only way of displaying all the honours they had earned in war both ashore and afloat. Incidentally, it may be of interest to note that they share the Great Globe with their comrades in arms in the United States Marine Corps.

It is perhaps because the Royal Marines are a minority in the Senior Service that they have a particularly high esprit de corps and morale. Often these days it is not much good talking about tradition or patriotism, or perhaps even honour: they are regarded as rather old fashioned words. In the jargon of today we talk about teeth-to-tail ratios, cost-effectiveness and flexibility. I suggest that it is in this respect that the Royal Marines predominate. They are highly professional and versatile. Who else could produce helicopter pilots, swimmer-canoeists, ski troops, landing craft crews, naval gunners or commando soldiers from the same corps? The Royal Marines can and do.

We are an island, and throughout our history we have had to land troops overseas, troops that can constantly switch from jungle warfare in Borneo to urban guerrilla warfare in Belfast, who can land from submarines or canoes for intelligence operations or as fighting units with their own support from helicopters. The list of their operations since World War Two can be found in HANSARD for 21st May at column 74.

It can be said—indeed it has been said—that Army units could do the same job as Royal Marines with special training. Perhaps that is true. But for how long with how much flexibility? Soldiers would have to be specially trained and taken away from their own duties for this purpose, with all the waste and overheads that that would entail. But the Royal Marines are there and have been there for over 300 years, ready to switch from one emergency to the next.

The only complaint I have to make to the Minister is that a total of 8,000 men, including the band service, is rather small. It is, I believe, virtually the lowest number to which the Royal Marines have sunk in the whole 300-odd years of their existence. I believe that more men could be recruited but that the numbers tend to be held to a certain percentage of the Royal Navy. A marine is a marine because he is part of the Royal Navy, and that link must never be broken. But I believe that numbers can and perhaps should be increased.

There is a saying "Once a marine, always a marine." The House may have noticed that there are hon. Members on both sides who are wearing a certain tie. This perhaps represents one of the more exclusive groups in the Houses of Parliament—the ex-Royal Marine Members of both Houses, and of the staff of the Palace of Westminster who give us such sterling service and to whom we as Members of Parliament owe so much. I conclude by reminding the House of the words of Lord St. Vincent many years ago. He said: If ever the hour of danger should come to England, they "— that is, the Royal Marines— would be found to be the country's sheet anchor.. I should like to paraphrase those words and to say that if ever the hour of real danger comes for the Corps of Royal Marines, they will find many sheet anchors in all parties and on both sides of both Houses of Parliament.

12.4 p.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

It is a great pleasure and honour to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). I speak for the first time in this Parliament in his support. This is a unique occasion, although we have noticed similar occasions in the House previously. There are times when we forget our party politics and we speak from both sides of the House with the same voice. Certainly today there are no party politics in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) and I speak today with the same voice as that of the hon. Member for Haltemprice, and that is in support of the corps in which we were proud to serve.

When I first joined the corps many years ago, one of the things we were told was that the future of the corps was in doubt. It has been in doubt many times previously. Certainly in the last war the corps proved its worth in the defence of our country and in the defence of civilisation. We have done this before.

The chief thing I remember from my serving days was not only the esprit de corps, to which reference has already been made, but the adaptability of the ordinary marine and his sense of responsibility. In the one unit in which I served—the 30th Assault Unit; a very small, very exclusive unit—I can remember the way in which the ordinary marine took on responsibility which went far beyond what might have been expected from his rank. Marines were able to do that because of not only their professional training but their training as marines. But they were expected, when things changed, when an emergency arose, to adapt themselves swiftly and professionally to a new situation.

The other thing to which I want to refer is the close liaison which the corps has always had with the Royal Navy. I am delighted to see the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) in his place. He is one who knows about this from his professional experience. We had a close association. When we were on ship we knew what to do. We did not get in the way. I am sure that the men who served in the Royal Navy will know very well that when ordinary troops come on board ship one of the great difficulties is getting them to adapt themselves to the ways of a ship. Certainly in the Corps of Royal Marines we have had this experience over many generations, and we know how to behave and how to fit in with the ordinary ship's company. Moreover, there has always been a strong bond of affection between us and the Royal Navy which has stood both the Royal Navy and the Marines in good stead when difficulties have arisen.

It would be very unfortunate if ever the situation arose in which we did not have that adaptability, that ability to rely on the ordinary man, which has been a characteristic of the corps since any of us can remember. I hope that not only the House but the nation will understand the very special part that Royal Marines have played in the defence of this country.

Finally, let me say, as a Member on the Government side of the House, that we are very conscious that the country needs defending. We are very conscious of the fact that this country has a very large part to play in the defence of decency and civilisation throughout the world and the sort of things which are part and parcel of the tradition of this House itself.

12.10 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Like the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), I rise for the first time in the present Parliament to make a full, though I hasten to add brief, speech on this subject. It may be said that this is a sinister exercise. There seems to be a lobby at work. We have an interest to declare. It is a very honourable interest. It is a lobby for the safety of the realm.

We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for initiating the debate. As he said, the corps is well represented in the Chambers and the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. It is a corps delite but one in which neither lineage, wealth nor type of schooling is necessary to success and promotion.

For me at least my own undistinguished service was the most important part of my education. I volunteered from university in 1939 and found myself on the anniversary day of the corps foundation on the parade ground at Eastney. Though assigned to the Chatham division, I never went to Chatham.

Not only the two main parties in the House, but the three old divisions are represented in this debate. The fact is that the RMO and their Lordships had to resort to such lengths as trying to make the hon. Member for Epping Forest, then a callow student, into an officer because the country and the corps were unprepared for the tasks which the Second World War was to impose.

In October 1939 it was an almost entirely sea service corps. As the Second World War continued, however, from the Narrow Seas to the Pacific Ocean, combined operations and opposed landing were prominent. So we had the Royal Marine Brigade expanded into the Royal Marine Division, then broken into commandos, and Army commandos also raised ad hoc.

It seems to be a lesson of past history, when Marines have been repeatedly raised and disbanded, that Governments tend to make a feckless false economy, when they impose defence cuts, by descending upon a corps which in recent years, from Brunei to the Lough Neagh patrol, has exemplified something approaching the perfection in inter-arm and inter-Service versatility required of modern integrated armed forces.

The leading military Powers today know that marines are essential. The United States Marine Corps, which also claims its origins in 1664, is world renowned and the naval infantry of Imperial Russia have been reborn under the new maritime super-Power—the Soviet Union—whose maritime force, according to a statement by Admiral Gorshkov on 28th July 1967, has been converted into an offensive type of long-range armed force. That is an important statement to keep in mind.

In what we are trying to do today we have the sympathy of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy; and I trust that the merits of the case will ensure the continuance of the Royal corps, per mare, per terram ad multos annos.

12.13 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for initiating this debate. Both of us must declare our interest. The hon. Gentleman is chairman of the all-party ex-Royal Marine Group in the House. I am its secretary.

There are about 10 or 12 Members of the House of Commons who are ex-Royal Marines. There are four or five Members of the House of Lords who are ex-Royal Marines. There are 18 to 20 members of the staff, including, Mr. Speaker, Jimmy Green, your Trainbearer, to whom we are all very grateful for all he does, who are ex-Royal Marines.

I had the honour to serve with the Royal Marines during the last war as a humble sergeant, an NCO. It is sometimes said that it is the NCOs who actually organise things and do the job. In that humble capacity, between 1942 and 1946 I became very proud of my associations with the corps and with its traditions. As has been said, once a marine, always a marine. This is very true. One never forgets one's life with the Marines. I sincerely hope that this great and proud tradition will be long maintained.

It has been pointed out that the corps is now over 300 years old. Its long and glorious history is written into the annals of this country. With its present strength of 8,000 it is doing a first-class job throughout the world. It is true to say that Marines are soldiers and sailors too. This is the important rôle that marines play. The rôle of the corps is unique— to provide a specialist landing force in readiness for any emergency.

I, like many hon. Members on this side, believe that if we can reduce our defence budget, we should do so. I believe that we are spending a tremendous amount of money on it. Equally I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) that we are in need of defence and that we must have an adequate defence force. If we are to have that adequate defence force, we should retain the best elements of it. This means that we must retain the Corps of Royal Marines.

I should like to have from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who represents a marine constituency in Portsmouth, a very firm assurance that there is no possibility that the Marines will be assimilated into either the Navy or the Army. We all know the vital rôle that the Marines are playing in Northern Ireland. They would be sadly missed if they had to come out of the province now.

The Marines' great rôle in history and at present is to deal with the unexpected. In the last 25 years the corps has seen service in Palestine, the Canal Zone, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaya, Cyprus, Aden, the Far East, Africa, Borneo, and Brunei.

In addition to all those jobs which the corps has undertaken with a relatively small staff under its control, it has helped very much with famine relief throughout the world and earned the admiration of people wherever it has gone. This is one thing which the Marines do above all other regiments or corps, no matter what they might be. Marines leave behind a good impression. We should be proud of this.

We are also—we boast about the fact —a ceremonial regiment. We are proud of our perfection and drill and we are proud that we provide bands for the Royal Navy and some excellent music.

Our recruitment record is good. Recruitment for the Navy is down 30 per cent. and for the Army it is down 40 per cent. but for the Marines it is down by only 23 per cent.

I agree with the hon. Member for Haltemprice that there is a case for in- creasing the size of the corps if that can be done. Its main duty is that of a commando force. When I first joined the Marines in 1942 I understood that, apart from having to be above average in intelligence and in physical fitness, I should be able to wear the blue uniform which I had always thought that marines walked out in. I was never issued with one. I wore khaki.

There are some 20 marine corps in the world. One can ask, why have them? Cannot the Army do just as well? It would need expensive training to make that possible. As I have said, marines are soldiers and sailors too, and by fulfilling this double rôle they earn our gratitude. I do not believe that either the Army or the Navy could do the same job independently by itself. The Royal Marines are specialists in seaborne landings.

We are a small corps. For every marine there are 10 sailors, 12 airmen and 20 soldiers, but they have a great esprit de corps a high morale, a high belief in themselves. It is this which endears them to each other. One knows that if one is in trouble anywhere in the world, one has only to shout "Royals!" and one gets help from somewhere. I hope that that will continue. Marines are the true professionals. This should be underlined and understood. They have a high sense of morale and purpose.

If the Minister takes the view that it is a question of "first in and last out", I must point out that we have 310 years behind us. I sincerely hope that the corps will remain in existence for a long time to come. It has a long and distinguished history. The Marines deserve the support of the Government, the nation and the House.

12.20 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

I am delighted to engage in combined operations with the Royal Marines—not, I may say, for the first time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who initiated this debate, and the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) have said, the Royal Marines are an integral part of the Royal Navy, integrated in every way, but both Services retain their individual personalities, and this surely is the basis of all truly happy marriages.

The fact that the Royal Marines wear a different uniform, live ashore in their own barracks—when they are ashore— and have their own administration is really just peanuts. It is candle ends. It is only quartermaster stuff. The present-day use of the Armed Forces for the preservation of peace—that is to say, the prevention of war rather than the waging of war—throws a responsibility as never before on the very junior ranks, on the privates, corporals and very junior NCOs in charge of patrols, who have to make decisions which in conventional war are made at a much higher level in the military command structure. This was never more true that it is in Northern Ireland at the moment.

It is worth asking what is the basic motivation which makes these very young men behave with such courage, discipline and restraint. What is it that makes them put aside the normal human instincts of self-preservation in face of danger when it arises? I believe that the most important single factor is a feeling of belonging to an identifiable, compact and respected unit. This surely is the basis of the whole British regimental system. This is the thing which makes a young corporal hop up out of a foxhole and face fire from the enemy when every human instinct would suggest that he should stay in the foxhole.

Every soldier under this system is not only proud of his unit but would also be ashamed to death of being seen to fail or falter in moments of danger. It is not too much to say that the fear of letting the side down is greater than the fear of danger from the enemy. I believe that this is especially the case when the unit or regiment is small enough for families to know one another. In the last resort the young man would have the feeling that how he conducted himself when the crunch came, because he belonged to a small and tightly-knit unit, would get back to his mother, wife or girl friend. I believe that this feeling is extremely close to a valuable corps d'élite such as the Royal Marines undoubtedly are.

I say sincerely that any Government who might contemplate squandering this very strong motivation in a search for rationalisation or small-scale administrative savings would be in very great danger of throwing away the baby with the bath water.

12.24 p.m.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of brothers-in-arms. I served for many years in the Parachute Regiment and we served, as the hon. Member for Hudders-field, West (Mr. Lomas) will know, alongside the Royal Marines not only in the Middle East, Cyprus and Aden but also in Northern Ireland and many other parts of the world. We formed a comradeship which is almost unique.

I believe we both accept that in the world today the need for elite armed forces is greater than it ever has been. Many people these days talk about the need for quality and not quantity in many areas, but certainly if ever there was a requirement for quality it is surely in our Armed Forces today. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) has pointed this out. I believe with him that if there was ever any hint—and there seems to be a hint of this today— of any further cuts in the Armed Forces, and if anyone contemplated a cut in the Royal Marines, that would strike dismay not only among the Marines and the Royal Navy but among the Armed Forces and would strike an irreparable blow at their morale.

12.25 p.m.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

I welcome the opportunity of making a short intervention in this too brief debate in order to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for having initiated the debate, and secondly because it enables me to pay a tribute to the Royal Marines and to thank them for all the kindness they showed to me during the year and more which I had as Minister for the Royal Navy.

One of the highlights of that time in office was when I went with the present Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy and other hon. Members to the Mediterranean under Royal Marine auspices. We went in that splendid ship HMS "Bulwark" and we dined on HMS "Intrepid". We got up at an unearthly hour, the sort of time at which we are accustomed to going to bed, at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, in order to have the privilege of becoming temporary Royal Marine commandos.

We went ashore in helicopters, and it was interesting to see the reaction of a splendid Royal Marine sergeant when he found that two of his men had been taken away and that there had been substituted for them the Commanding General of the Royal Marines and the Minister for the Navy, and that another squad had been substituted by Members of Parliament. There was at first a little unease about it until one allowed onself to use a few non-parliamentary words in conversation with one's friends, and one then noticed that the atmosphere relaxed. One was able to see at first hand the marvellous spirit among these men and their immense efficiency in conducting the type of warfare which we hope they will never have to do in anger but their whole ability to do this is a sure shield for us.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with the recruiting situation in the Royal Marines. One matter in which I am most interested is that of the reserves. The Under-Secretary knows that we had a little exchange at Question Time recently on the Bill which is ready and in draft to enable the Royal Marine reserves to undertake the same obligations as the TAVR and to get the bounty of £60 which the members of the TAVR receive. As I say, the Bill is there. The hon. Gentleman suggested that I had a new-found interest in this matter. That is not so. He knows that when one becomes a Minister one cannot get everything that one wants done quickly. This Bill will have all-party support.

The hon. Gentleman has not got an overladen programme of legislation and I hope he will be able to bring the Bill forward. It can be taken separately from the review of the reserves. The only difficulty in bringing in the Bill before the conclusion of the review is that the hon. Gentleman would not be able to be as accurate as he otherwise would be about the exact financial implications of the measure. Nevertheless, I hope it can be taken apart from the general review of the reserves. As I say, it would have all-party support and it would help recruiting to the Royal Marine reserves.

I am grateful for having been called to speak in this debate. If the Under-Secretary is able to say whether the Royal Marines are to be exempt from the possibility of cuts we shall be only too glad. The matter is a little worrying because HMS "Bulwark" is becoming an old ship now, and decisions about her and other ships involved will have to be made very soon. If the hon. Gentleman can say something of a reassuring character, it will be welcomed by the many friends of the Royal Marines, not only in this House but throughout the country.

12.30 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Frank Judd)

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for giving me this opportunity to speak about the Royal Marines. The House is well aware of his own long association with the corps, both as a Royal Marine himself and as a Member of this House— an association shared, in one or both those capacities, by all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. I want to emphasise how glad I am that my appointment as Minister for the Royal Navy has given me the opportunity of being directly associated with the corps and its fine traditions.

It is clear from this short debate that there is no shortage of support for the Royal Marines in this House. It would be a rash Minister who ignored the combined forces of the hon. Member for Haltemprice, my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas), the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer), backed up by no less a figure than the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), my predecessor in office and, objectively of course, by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). I do not think that any of us remained unmoved when the hon. and gallant gentleman drew attention so well to the qualities and the origins of that spirit in the Royal Marines which we have all come to appreciate.

As I said in the debate on 22nd March, I have in recent years been able to watch the Royal Marines at work at close quarters, both in this country and abroad, in a very wide variety of activities. I have seen their training, including their work-up for the major NATO exercise to which the hon. and learned Member for Colchester referred. I have witnessed at first hand their exemplary conduct in Northern Ireland. Most recently—indeed only this week—I visited them at Plymouth. All this has left me in absolutely no doubt whatever about their dedication, fitness and expertise.

The House will know of my strongly held view that the Royal Marines, under the impressive leadership of their officers and their NCOs, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield. West so rightly drew attention, together with those units of the Army and the one Royal Air Force officer who wears the green beret, consistently set the highest standards in all that they tackle and accomplish. Within the Services as a whole they have provided a pace-setting centre of excellence. Their bands and orchestras have also always maintained the same high quality and have provided enjoyment for many thousands of the public. I believe that we are very fortunate indeed to have such men serving in our Armed Forces and that we can all be justly proud of them.

Understandably, hon. Members have referred to the defence review. They would not expect me today to say any more than has already been said. We have just had a defence debate, and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said then and in his statement to the House on 21st March, our aim in the circumstances of the review is to maintain a modern and effective defence system. To this end we are examining our defence commitments and capabilities, including those of the Royal Marines. I assure the House that we are well aware of the considerations hon. Members have so properly highlighted in the debate.

We shall have very much in mind the tremendous human resources we have in the Royal Marines, their fine record of service during the Second World War and since, given in almost all the operational theatres which have involved British forces, from Palestine to Borneo, and we will equally have fully in mind the important and special contribution which the Royal Marines continue to make to the defence of Britain and in support of NATO.

We shall publish the results of our review in a White Paper just as soon as we can. In the meantime I can only emphasise that anything hon. Members may have read or heard about the outcome of the review is nothing more than speculation and should be treated as such. I can say with absolute conviction that among those of us involved in the review, whether we be Ministers, senior civil servants or senior officers, there is no inclination to discuss what is going on at this stage with any representatives of the Press, however distinguished they may believe themselves to be. No new decisions have been taken about the future of the Royal Marines and their amphibious capability or on any other aspect of defence expenditure.

My right hon. Friend has referred to NATO as the linchpin of our security, and as such it will have first call on the available resources. I should therefore like to say something about the present role of the Royal Marines and their amphibious capability in this context.

The whole of the amphibious force, which in one shape or another has been in existence for over 300 years, is declared to NATO. Today this force comprises the specialist ships "Bulwark", "Hermes", "Fearless" and "Intrepid", the naval helicopter squadrons and the four Royal Marine commando groups. Their job is to provide reinforcement forces which are able to react instantly to a threat of aggression, particularly in Norway and the Mediterranean.

Their sheer versatility as a self-contained, flexible fighting unit makes them a valuable component of NATOs deterrent forces. No other European country, it is worth remarking, currently contributes a full amphibious capability to NATO. Hon. Members will no doubt be aware of the professionalism—indeed, they have emphasised it in the debate— with which, for example, 45 Commando, the only fully ski-trained and equipped unit in the British Forces, has prepared itself for mountain and arctic warfare. The annual exercises in Norway admirably demonstrate their very high degree of competence in this sphere. It has been highly praised by senior Norwegian officers who have seen the Marines exercising.

In the Mediterranean, their colleagues in 41 Commando, some of whom I met during my recent visit to Malta, have recently taken part in a major NATO amphibious exercise, "Dawn Patrol", with forces of other nations. This proved a great success and is not untypical ot the multinational co-operation which is a feature of the Royal Marines today.

I turn now to the ships themselves. HMS "Hermes" was converted to the commando ship role last year at Devon-port and was fitted out to carry Wessex troop-carrying helicopters with a guided weapon capability. The opportunity was taken at the same time to improve the standards of accommodation in the ship for the embarked Royal Marine commando group. I have been over "Hermes" very briefly myself and I know that everyone is pleased with the refitting job which has been done on her. She is now about to cross the Atlantic for a joint amphibious exercise with the Canadian Armed Forces.

The other commando ship, HMS "Bulwark", which I visited with the hon. and learned Member for Colchester and other hon. Members in the Mediterranean last year, was converted for the commando ship rôle some years ago. She has been doing a first-class job and is currently undergoing refit at Devonport. This will include a long overdue improvement in her accommodation standards.

The two assault ships, "Fearless" and "Intrepid", are also continuing to serve, with their special capability for carrying and landing tanks and heavy equipment. HMS "Fearless" is currently combining this role with that of the Darmouth cadet training ship. She, too, participated in "Dawn Patrol" and is now on a visit to Italy. Her sister ship, HMS "Intrepid", is now being refitted at Portsmouth.

In emphasising the current role of the Royal Marines in NATO, however, we must not lose sight of their other important tasks. They provide detachments for a large number of Her Majesty's ships as well as a garrison for the Falkland Islands. Various specialist groups are trained in amphibious reconnaissance and, of course, the Royal Marines take their turn alongside Army units in Northern Ireland. All four commando groups have served there. At the moment it is the turn of 42 Commando. The Royal Marines also assist in anti-smuggling patrols in Northern Ireland waters.

I cannot praise the Royal Marines too highly for the way they are carrying out their work in Northern Ireland in such appallingly difficult circumstances. I hope lo go to Northern Ireland once again in the near future to bring myself fully up to date with the work which the Royal Marines are doing in the Province.

It is appropriate that I should draw attention to one of the less-publicised facets of their presence—the care and concern with which Royal Marines contribute constructively to the civil community. For example, in Belfast the Marines have organised Outward Bound and adventure training camps for young people, served on community centre committees and arranged recreational trips for pensioners and children. In this work they have bridged religious and political differences and in every way tried to introduce an element of humanity into a thoroughly difficult situation. This community work applies not only to Northern Ireland. Wherever they serve the Royal Marines are involved with the local community. The Wilkinson Sword of Peace has been awarded twice to 40 Commando —for its community relations work in Borneo during the confrontation with Indonesia and again for its work in Belfast in the summer of 1972.

All in all, this amounts to a r61e which is thoroughly attuned to our present-day needs—a highly-skilled, highly-trained, mobile and versatile force fully assimilated into NATO and national plans and able to make a clear contribution to peace and stability.

What is particularly useful is the ability of the Marines to provide a point of entry for a more permanent force to follow. Their diverse abilities and talents also enable them to make a quick response to any United Nation peace-keeping requirement, and they did that as long ago as the Korean war when, in the early 1950s, they fought and worked alongside the United States Marine Corps under the United Nations flag. They also have a capability for disaster relief, such as in the case of the floods in East Pakistan in 1971 when they were able to provide immediate and desperately-needed assistance.

The hon. and learned Member for Colchester raised two points which were not altogether unexpected in view of his keenness about the Marines. As regards recruiting, by and large we have been fulfilling expectations with the Royal Marines in recent years and there have been more recent signs of an upturn in recruiting to this elite band, as it has been described in the House. I am sure everyone will welcome that. The hon. and learned Member also referred to the bounty and to the reserves. I am sorry if he misinterpreted anything I might have said recently in the heat of exchange at Question Time. I did not intend a severe personal criticism, but it really is a pity that during the time the hon. and learned Gentleman was Minister he was not able to persuade his Government to take the action which he was keen they should adopt. It is always disappointing for Ministers when they fail in their priorities, and I am sure that the House feels for the hon. and learned Member in his frustration. Let us hope that he can persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends in opposition in future to share his views on those things on which we agree.

I have put my position on this issue quite clearly in the House and I repeat it now. I must await the outcome of the review into the role of the reserves which was initiated by the hon. and learned Member and which he was right to establish in order that we may have a defined future for the reserves.

The Royal Marines as an entity are a peace-keeping force in every sense, and I can assure the House that this will be in the forefront of the Government's thinking in the months ahead.