HC Deb 24 May 1988 vol 134 cc186-7
7. Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the role of the SAS in Europe.

Mr. Ian Stewart

No, Sir.

Mr. Dalyell

Under what and on whose authority does the SAS operate?

Mr. Stewart

It has long been the policy of this Government and their predecessors not to comment on the activities of, or arrangements for, our special forces. To depart from that policy would, in my view, be against the interests not only of members of our armed forces but of British citizens who may he exposed to danger at home or abroad.

Mr. Conway

Does my hon. Friend accept that the SAS has a fine tradition of serving not only this democratically elected Government but their predecessors of a Socialist persuasion, and that its expertise and courage is held in the highest esteem, not only in this House but among the general public who will deny the whingers opposite who sell the SAS short?

Mr. Stewart

I welcome my hon. Friend's support for the proficiency of our armed forces.

Mr. Cryer

Surely the Minister accepts some sort of principle of democratic accountability. Does not the absence of such democratic accountability suggest that the SAS could institute a shoot-to-kill policy of its own without any control whatsoever? Is the Minister trying to claim that that is what happened in Gibraltar, or was that planned? All that the House wants to know is who planned it, who made the decision and who gave the orders. Surely we are entitled to know that.

Mr. Stewart

All military operations and activities in this country or by our armed forces are ultimately under political control. I should emphasise that our soldiers are highly trained to operate within the law and according to strict rules.