HC Deb 21 July 1981 vol 9 cc153-4
8. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the purpose of sending a battalion of infantry to Hong Kong.

Mr. Blaker

An additional infantry battalion will be stationed in Hong Kong from next spring to enable the garrison to meet all its commitments.

Mr. Hooley

What is the purpose of sending highly trained Service men 10,000 miles to a place that has not the remotest relevance to the defence of the United Kingdom? If those people are surplus to local requirements, might it not be better to offer them in support of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Middle East rather than stationing them in Hong Kong?

Mr. Blaker

This decision results from a careful review of the needs of Hong Kong which has taken place over the past year or so. The purpose of the garrison and of its reinforcement is to demonstrate the British Government's commitment to the integrity and the security of Hong Kong.

Mr. Hal Miller

Will my hon. Friend agree that it is most important that our commitment to Hong Kong should be demonstrated and that the assurance of the population in the continued protection of that territory is largely dependent on the garrison being maintained there?

Mr. Blaker

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We have responsibilities to Hong Kong which we intend to honour. What is more, Hong Kong is very important to Britain, among other things, as an export market. I believe that it is our second most important export market in Asia.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

How much of the time of our Armed Forces in Hong Kong is spent checking illegal immigrants from China? Is not too much time spent on that exercise, to the detriment of other important duties? Can the Minister also say how the cost is borne between the Hong Kong Government and this Government?

Mr. Blaker

As the House knows, last year and the year before, much of the garrison's time was spent dealing with the problem of illegal immigration from China. Fortunately, because of the measures taken by the Hong Kong Government late last year, that problem is much reduced. When it was at its most severe, the garrison was severely overstretched. That is one reason for providing an additional battalion.

There is now a new defence cost agreement which means that Hong Kong will pay 75 per cent. of the cost of the garrison. That is more beneficial and fairer than the previous agreement, which left out of account some costs that fell on the United Kingdom Government.

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