HC Deb 27 June 1978 vol 952 cc1191-2
1. Mr. Pattie

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the disposal arrangements for the RAF's fleet of seven Belfast transport aircraft.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. James Wellbeloved)


Mr. Pattie

Is not the Minister aware that these seven aircraft represent a specially constructed capability for transporting heavy equipment in support of our land forces? Is he not further aware that there is widespread concern in the country to the effect that the Government may not have the aircraft capability to meet a requirement for a rescue operation? In that case, does he not think that the decision to cannibalise these aircraft is the height of Government irresponsibility?

Mr. Wellbeloved

I do not accept that. Our VCIO fleet and the Hercules fleet are adequate to cope with all foreseeable contingencies which we have in mind. As for our total capability, I should be more impressed by what the hon. Gentleman says if he and his hon. Friends were supporting us in our attempts to increase our air-to-air refuelling capability rather than making niggling complaints about commercial decisions of this nature.

Mr. Churchill

Is the Under-Secretary aware that, thanks to this Government, the military airlift capability of the Royal Air Force has been slashed by 50 per cent.? Does he appreciate that in consequence of that the decision was taken by his Government to stand down the only remaining brigade-size formation of airborne forces remaining in this country? Is that not a serious situation, bearing in mind the rising Soviet threat to British interests and British lives in other parts of the world, specifically Africa?

Mr. Wellbeloved

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made clear to the House, the Government are satisfied that they have the capacity to come to the aid of citizens involved in difficulties overseas, where that is necessary.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should have told the House at the beginning of Question Time that yesterday I had another complaint about our going slow on Questions. Without any reflection at all on those who have taken part so far in Question Time today—because their remarks have been to the point—I express the hope that we shall have brief supplementary questions today; otherwise I shall have to be more ruthless about calling supplementary questions.

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