HC Deb 09 November 1976 vol 919 cc190-2
2. Mr. Hastings

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the present spares position for BAOR; and what are the current restrictions on petrol and ammunition for training purposes for the Army and RAF, respectively.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Dr. John Gilbert)

Temporary shortages have occurred from time to time in the past but I am satisfied there are no general shortages of spares in BAOR at present. Current restrictions on the use of fuel and ammunition are not impairing Army and RAF training programmes.

Mr. Hastings

In spite of what he has said, does the hon. Gentleman realise that to keep the Army short of ammunition and training facilities of this sort is damaging to morale as well as to efficiency? Will he look into the matter again? Does he recognise that those of us who take an interest in these matters will do our best to ensure that he keeps up to the mark?

Dr. Gilbert

I am always happy to investigate any incident that the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friends wish to draw to my attention. I repeat the assurance that I gave a moment ago. Clearly, we would always like to be able to give the forces in Germany the maximum amount of training facilities. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that certain types of missile and certain forms of sophisticated equipment make it an expensive matter.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Is there not a spares problem? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the enormous diversity of weapons used by each member of the Alliance? Does he recognise that every model of tank has a different weapon and a different engine, and that they all need different spares? What is being done to standardise these spares and weapons?

Dr. Gilbert

With respect, I do not think that the picture is quite as gloomy as the hon. Gentleman painted, although there is always scope for improvement in the standardisation of NATO weapons and weapon systems. The hon. Gentleman mentioned tanks in particular, I am sure that he will recognise that the British tank gun is widely used within NATO forces. My right hon. Friend and his opposite number in the United States, Secretary Rumsfeld, are particularly keen to make as much progress as possible in this direction.

Mr. Newens

Will my hon. Friend make it clear that at a time when we are finding many Conservative Members calling for cuts in public expenditure it is extremely important that economies should be made in this sphere? Is he aware that we should strongly support more far-reaching economies being made in BAOR?

Dr. Gilbert

My hon. Friend will be aware that substantial economies were made as a result of the 1975 defence review.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I must declare an interest, as I have two sons who are serving. Will the Minister reconsider what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) in his answer? Will he tell the House how many hours a Chieftain tank can be exercised in a year? Will he tell us for how many hours helicopters are allowed to fly and how many anti-tank missiles are allowed to be fired? What is the amount of training that is allowed to be carried out by BAOR?

In opposition to what the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) has said, it is of the utmost importance that Britain should have adequate defence to fulfil its NATO rôle, which it is not doing at present.

Dr. Gilbert

I do not dissent from the hon. Gentleman's proposition that it is important for both BAOR and RAF Germany to have adequate training facilities. The level of training that is required is an operational matter, on which my right hon. Friend and I take advice from the Chiefs of Staff. As I said in answer to the Question, I am advised that current restrictions on the use of fuel and ammunition are not impairing training progress for either of the Services.