HC Deb 12 June 1979 vol 968 cc217-8
9. Mr. David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what measures he proposes to take to increase the ability of Her Majesty's forces to respond rapidly to emergencies, including brush fire police activities and natural disasters in both a NATO and a Commonwealth context.

Mr. Hayhoe

We have already made clear by our actions that defence is being accorded a higher priority by this Government Improvements in the Services' general capabilities should aid our ability to take military action, where it might be judged appropriate, in the wide range of circumstances my hon. Friend appears to have in mind.

Mr. Price

Does my hon. Friend agree that the ability of our country to respond to the kind of emergency that I have outlined in my original question is severely limited by the shortage of transport aircraft?

Mr. Hayhoe

I am not able to comment on that problem but this can certainly be looked at speedily in view of the comment of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Molyneaux

Dealing with the Army's role in Northern Ireland in support of the civil power, is the Minister fully satisfied that units have the required degree of flexibility to enable them to meet the rapidly changing tactics of their enemies?

Mr. Hayhoe

Yes, on the information available to me I am satisfied that that is so. I hope soon to make a visit to Northern Ireland to see something of these matters for myself.

Mr. Churchill

Since the strength of Britain's Armed Forces, after full mobilisation, is smaller than that of Switzerland, Sweden or even tiny Finland—with one-twelfth of our population—is my hon. Friend satisfied with the level of our reserve forces, and, if he is not, will he announce that it is his firm intention to increase the size of those forces?

Mr. Hayhoe

We certainly place substantial importance upon the role of the TAVR in the defence of our country. There are critical manning problems, and we hope that the pay rises which have been announced will at least go some way towards resolving these.

Mr. Hooley

Will the Minister ensure that British forces are trained and undertake exercises to equip them for taking part in United Nations peacekeeping operations?

Mr. Hayhoe

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are at present taking part in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus and we give logistic support to the United Nations force operating in the Lebanon. Certainly, the training that our forces have fits them to play a first-class role in this respect.