HC Deb 09 February 1993 vol 218 cc817-8
9. Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what number of British armed forces personnel are currently deployed onshore and offshore in support of United Nations actions in the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Rifkind

The number of British armed forces personnel currently deployed, onshore and offshore, in direct support of United Nations operations in the former Yugoslavia is about 3,000. Additionally, there are some 320 personnel deployed for possible reinforcement or evacuation action on HMS Ark Royal and other British vessels in the area.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is not it transparent that the extra turn of the screw in reducing Army numbers, now reversed, was always Treasury-driven and not a military judgment; that the idea that substantial savings could be made while continuing to meet our likely commitments—the so-called peace dividend—was in part and in practice a delusion; and that the cancellation of the helicopter landing platform, the intended centrepiece of our amphibious capability, would be a contradiction of the rapid reaction role on which our new policy is to be based?

Mr. Rifkind

We have always said that it would be necessary to review requirements in the light of the changing international situation, but I emphasise to my hon. Friend that the main thrust behind "Options for Change" remains unchallenged because the United Kingdom, with the United States, France, Russia, and every other country of NATO and the former Warsaw pact, must make substantial reductions in the overall size of its armed forces. The cold war is over. As the cold war was the single most important reason for the level of defence expenditure that we have had over the past 40 years, it would be unrealistic to believe that it should continue regardless of the changes that have occurred. That is a factor which I believe will commend itself to the House.

Dr. David Clark

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the Ark Royal is so short of facilities and so overcrowded that members of our armed forces have to sleep under their planes and by their equipment? Does not this show that we are overstretched in the Navy as well as in the Army and does not it also call into question the need for a helicopter landing ship? Will he tell the House this afternoon that he intends to proceed with that order?

Mr. Rifkind

As for HMS Ark Royal, the hon. Gentleman is being foolish. Ark Royal is in the Adriatic for a specific and limited purpose. It is perfectly able to provide proper, indeed excellent, accommodation for its normal crew, but on a temporary basis it is carrying additional personnel. The suggestion that that is evidence of overall underprovision is very silly.

As for the helicopter landing ship, as I told the hon. Gentleman, the tenders in respect of that order are under consideration and we shall make an announcement as soon as we can.

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