HC Deb 29 January 1985 vol 72 cc145-6
12. Mr. Wallace

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will extend the Ethiopian tour of duty of Royal Air Force transport planes for a further three months.

Mr. Stanley

Our offer to extend the airlift to the end of March and to review the position again nearer that time has been accepted by the Ethiopian Government. I am glad to tell the House that the British RAF and Army detachment in Ethiopia has now airlifted some 6,000 tonnes of relief supplies, and has taken part in recent trials in the air dropping of supplies to more inaccessible parts of the famine area.

Mr. Wallace

I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will pay tribute to the work done by the RAF. The public, having responded so well to the appeals that have been made, think that it is important, both for distribution purposes and psychologically, that the Government continue their commitment. Will the Minister give the House more reassurance about the future extent to which food can be taken to the Tigré and Eritrea regions of Ethiopia by the RAF?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the contributions made by the armed services. Undoubtedly, they have been strikingly effective in the utilisation of the two Hercules that we have out there. We shall continue the dropping operation by conventional landing techniques, but, as I have said, we have just started exploring the possibility of air dropping. Whether we shall be able to do that will depend upon whether we can put together arrangements for the landing of ground parties, which is obviously crucial when dropping by free fall.

Sir Hector Monro

Will my right hon. Friend go further and warmly congratulate the Hercules squadron—both the aircrew on their exceptional airmanship and the ground crew on their exceptional servicing record—thus keeping the squadron going on short runways and in difficult conditions, and thereby playing an important part in the relief of this difficult part of east Africa?

Mr. Stanley

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I can certainly bear witness, from my experience out there just before Christmas, of the difficult landing and take-off conditions which the RAF has successfully dealt with, not least in coping with the considerable problems represented by the bird strikes, which took out about 9ft of the leading edge of one of the wings of the Hercules just before Christmas. All concerned have done outstandingly well.

Mr. O'Neill

I congratulate the Government on their work, but will the Minister confirm that the cost of the work is being borne by the Ministry of Defence and will not come out of the Overseas Development Administration budget?

Mr. Stanley

No, that is not quite correct. For the first three months of our contribution the costs were borne exclusively by the Ministry of Defence, on the defence budget. With the extension of the operation from the beginning of February, we have agreed to share the costs equally between the Overseas Development Administration and the Ministry of Defence.