HC Deb 15 July 1986 vol 101 cc840-1
9. Mr. Patrick Thompson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has any plans to extend the role of volunteers in home defence.

Mr. Freeman

Current planning already envisages a continuing expansion of our reserve forces for home defence tasks.

Mr. Thompson

Bearing in mind the well-known need to secure the home base more effectively in an emergency, does my hon. Friend agree that it might be a good idea to introduce some form of voluntary national service for young people to supplement the good work carried out by the reserve and home defence volunteers?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend raises a different point. He will know that, in relation to home defence, we have plans for a Home Defence Force of approximately 5,000 by 1990, and we intend to increase the Territorial Army. Within that time frame to 1990, that is the correct policy and plan to ensure national security.

Mr. Ron Brown

Does the Minister agree that within the Conservative party there are elements who would argue that the so-called Home Defence Force could be used as strike breakers to attack the working class and hold them down in periods of struggle against the Government?

Mr. Freeman

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Home Service Force, not the Home Defence Force. The Home Service Force is currently 3,100 strong and has some way to go before it reaches its target ceiling. Its main function is simply the defence of key installations.

Mr. Jim Spicer

Does my hon. Friend accept that, even with these forces allocated to protect key installations, and even when they are at full strength, they must be kept under review because there may be a need to extend the number of key installations to guard?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend is correct. I am grateful for his continuing interest in home defence. When we reach the target levels, that will be the right time to review policy to see whether there is the correct balance of commitments within the balance of resources. We will then review policy.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

As an ex-local defence volunteer, Home Guard and an ex-Regular Army man, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the defence force in its reserve capacity—the Territorial Army and the Home Defence Force—is probably the best value for money available? Would my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) accept from me that he was very uncomplimentary to the many thousands of decent working-class men and women who are members of those forces when he suggested that they join to become strike breakers?

Mr. Freeman

I share the hon. Gentleman's views about the value of the Territorial Army. I join him in paying tribute to the TA for its excellent work.

Mr. Churchill

Will my hon. Friend confirm that a ministerial undertaking was given to the Select Committee on Defence that the 300,000 or more self-loading rifles which have now become surplus to requirements for the Regular forces will not be disposed of, but will be retained against the possibility that we may have to expand greatly the Home Services Forces in future?

Mr. Freeman

If my hon. Friend will permit me, I shall write to him with the answer to that question.

Sir Hector Monro

In view of the great success of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in aerodrome defence and recruiting, is my hon. Friend able to announce a helicopter squadron for the Auxiliaries, which is long overdue?

Mr. Freeman

No, I am not yet able to make any announcement. It is not within my direct responsibilities, in any case. However, I join my hon. Friend in paying tribue to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Reserve, which, as with the Territorial Army, performs an excellent job.