HC Deb 27 June 1978 vol 952 cc1198-9
7. Mr. Viggers

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the airlifting capacity available to Her Majesty's Forces.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Within the resources available, I believe that we have the most cost-effective mix of airlift capacity and other military capabilities.

Mr. Viggers

Is the Minister aware how completely his complacency contrasts with the view of other observers, including the Expenditure Committee of this House? If it should be necessary for this country to mount a rescue operation comparable with that mounted in Zaire by the Belgian and French forces, could we do it?

Mr. Wellbeloved

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already dealt very exhaustively with that point. As always, he is accurately reflecting the considered view of the Government on their capabilities to protect British citizens overseas.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

"Mix" is a highly sensitive word, and perhaps "mix-up" is better. Does not the Minister agree that there is nothing like sufficient air capacity to do a rescue operation? There are not sufficient airborne forces to carry out any sort of operation. In the event of an emergency, what plans does the Minister have to take steps to make use of the nationalised air corporation—British Airways—and the various other companies? It is very important that on this point I should be informed as to what plans there are.

Mr. Wellbeloved

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's observations about "mix-up", I can think of no greater mix-up than the activities of Conservative Members who are continually criticising the Government in respect of defence capability, yet many of them are queueing up outside my office to protest against the enlargement, expansion and increase in the air defence capacity of this country and our NATO allies. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. As to the availability of civil aircraft, long-standing arrangements have operated under successive Administrations whereby we would have availability of civil aircraft to reinforce our military transport capability.

Sir Ian Gilmour

That is the second time when the hon. Gentleman has made absurd allegations against my hon. Friends. Why does he not make clear that what they have done is to object on environmental grounds to their constituencies being chosen? They have all made perfectly clear that they are in favour of this capability, and the Minister knows that perfectly well.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Making clear that one is in favour of an improvement in air-to-air refuelling capability could be best demonstrated by Members of Parliament, particularly Opposition spokesmen, making clear to electors, especially their own supporters, the vital necessity of having the capability in this country to carry out air-to-air refuelling.

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