HC Deb 10 November 1987 vol 122 cc149-50
6. Miss Mowlam

To ask the Secretary for Defence what British forces are currently committed to the reinforcement of Norway and Denmark.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Ian Stewart)

The 3 Commando Brigade, as part of the United Kingdom-Netherlands amphibious force and the United Kingdom mobile force, has the reinforcement of the northern region as its principal role. The United Kingdom also makes a sgnificant contribution to the ACE mobile force, which has options to deploy there. In addition, RAF Jaguars are specifically assigned to the northern region and a number of other RAF aircraft could also be deployed there.

Miss Mowlam

Will the Minister say whether he plans any cuts in that United Kingdom mobile force? Is he aware that if he does the Danes' response may be that NATO is no longer worth the effort?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that that is a necessary conclusion. We welcome the contribution of the Danes, and we should welcome a greater contribution from them. With regard to the United Kingdom mobile force, it is generally accepted that the current use is not the best one. That point was explained fully a few months ago by my predecessor in answer to the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). That matter is presently under assessment at SHAPE, but no decisions have been taken.

Mr. Wilkinson

Were the British Government consulted before the Canadians decided to withdraw from their commitment to deploy a brigade to northern Norway? Will my hon. Friend say whether he will consider the possibility of compensating for that deficiency by deploying British troops on the northern flank? Paradoxically, the Canandians seem about to augment their presence on the central front.

Mr. Stewart

As my hon. Friend knows, these matters are extensively discussed among allied Governments. As to Britain being required to fill the role of the Canadians if they withdraw their CAST force, we have received no request from them or NATO to do that. As I said with regard to the United Kingdom mobile force, these matters are currently under consideration within NATO.

Mr. Sean Hughes

As the Norwegians can no longer depend on the CAST brigade, will the Minister say whether the Government will formally commit the Royal Marines to the defence of Norway? If not, who will be responsible?

Mr. Stewart

It would be unwise for me to prejudge the consideration that these questions are being given within NATO. It is in that context that our force is part of SACEUR's strategic reserve.

Mr. Ward

My hon. Friend is well aware of the activities of the Royal Marines in Norway, but will he continually hear in mind the need to increase its airborne assault capability for use not only in the northern sector but in other parts of the world?

Mr. Stewart

Like my hon. Friend, I have the highest regard for the Royal Marines and their capability for amphibious operations. The Purple Warrior exercise that is currently under way has demonstrated their professionalism. My hon. Friend should not underestimate the scale of equipment and ships that are available, but we are anxious to ensure that we maintain our capabilities.