HC Deb 06 April 1976 vol 909 cc210-1
10. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of British amphibious forces in the light of the Government's White Paper on Defence Estimates.

25. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it is intended that the Royal Marine Commandos shall continue to be used in their traditional amphibious rôle; and, if so, how this can be done speedily and efficiently following the laying up or transfer to other rôles of all the Royal Navy's amphibious ships.

Mr. Judd

The amphibious forces will consist of the Royal Marines brigade headquarters, three commando groups together with their associated Wessex helicopters and Army support, and two assault ships, one of which will be kept at immediate operational readiness. HMS "Hermes" will also retain a secondary rôle as a commando ship. One commando group has for a number of years been equipped and trained to be available for all-year service in Arctic Norway; now, in addition, we have offered to assign the other two commandos for specific NATO priorities. One of these two commandos, together with a small tactical brigade headquarters, will also be trained and equipped for service in Arctic conditions. Sufficient shipping will be available for the deployment of the Royal Marines.

Mr. Wall

Will the Minister explain how commandos can operate without immediately available specialist shipping and heavy lift aircraft, which have been removed under defence cuts? Is HMS "Bulwark" to be laid up or scrapped?

Mr. Judd

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that while it is true that we have reduced the number of amphibious ships in service, those still available, together with HMS "Hermes"—which is in a secondary rôle as a commando carrier—and other specialised support ships will be sufficient for many years to come, together with commercial shipping to be brought in if necessary, to transport commandos.

Mr. Trotter

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will cast his mind back to the situation that obtained in the North of Norway in the last war when our soldiers were put ashore without adequate shipping.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Under a Conservative Prime Minister.

Mr. Trotter

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be unfair to Service men and the nation to repeat such a situation? Is it not ridiculous to lay up three-quarters of the amphibious ships, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the Marine Brigade?

Mr. Judd

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the amphibious ships that are available are perfectly adequate for all foreseen tasks which may be allocated to Royal Marine commandos. It would help if we were able to have supplies and stocks locally situated and available for the commandos when they are deployed. That is something we are constantly considering with our allies.

Mr. Goodhew

Will the hon. Gentle-assure the House that he is not counting on the support of British Rail ferries when he wishes to move commandos about the world?

Mr. Judd

There are no plans for the use of British Rail ferries. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall use whatever shipping is necessary when the time comes to deploy the commandos as effectively as possible.