HC Deb 23 November 1993 vol 233 cc311-3
4. Rev. Martin Smyth

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the capacity of the armed services to meet their current commitments, including UN peace keeping and peace making roles.

Mr. Rifkind

The Government's plans for force restructuring recognised that new peacetime commitments, including United Nations operations, could arise in the changed strategic setting. Britain's armed forces are currently engaged in a number of commitments, which they are fulfilling in a very satisfactory manner.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I welcome the Secretary of State's answer. Will he tell us what evidence was used to decide on the instructions to troops to remove their protective headgear and patrol in berets, in the face of continuing sniping in Northern Ireland? Does he believe that he would be able to redeploy troops in the light of the GOC's 60-point de-escalation plan?

Mr. Rifkind

The matters to which the hon. Gentleman refers were considered very carefully by the General Officer Commanding, Northern Ireland. He was clearly anxious to bring about a gradual return to normalcy, wherever possible and wherever sensible. If in his judgment it is appropriate to move in that direction, I am sure that we shall all welcome it; no doubt he will examine these matters in a very careful and considered fashion.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the crucial ingredient for effective support of United Nations operations on the part of the United Kingdom around the world is a modern air transport force and is he conscious of the bravery of the Royal Air Force crews who fly airlifts into Sarajevo in winter weather? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that the Royal Air Force will obtain at an early date the C130J version of the Hercules, which offers greater economy, payload and range and has the important benefit of substantial British industrial participation?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to the remarkable and courageous work of the RAF pilots and their crews landing in Sarajevo under some of the most difficult circumstances to arise for many years. We are actively considering the future of the transport fleet and the points to which my hon. Friend has rightly referred.

Mr. Jim Marshall

In the light of the Belgian Government's decision to join the Euro-corps and the likely possibility of a similar Spanish decision, does the Secretary of State have any intention of changing his view that Britain should not be an active member of the Euro-corps?

Mr. Rifkind

Many of our criticisms of the original proposals were shared by a number of other NATO countries and were made as a result of valuable negotiations that took place between the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and the French and German Governments, which made it clear that the Franco-German corps would be able to assist NATO in any operations that may be required. We have no intention of joining the Franco-German corps. We have an important commitment to the rapid reaction corps, which is central to NATO's strategy and we see the useful contribution that the Franco-German corps may make to NATO's overall requirements.

Mr. Elletson

Since the Bosnian Muslims now appear to be so grateful for Britain's role in the peacekeeping force in former Yugoslavia that they are threatening to sue us for genocide, since the Croats are now blocking the delivery of essential supplies to the Coldstream Guards and since the Serbs appear to be the only people in former Yugoslavia who want us to deliver humanitarian aid, is not it time that we stopped wasting taxpayers' money in Bosnia and brought the troops home by Christmas?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is certainly correct to imply that the humanitarian operation of providing food, medical aid and shelter can proceed only it it receives the co-operation of those for whom it is intended. I deplore, as I am sure does the House, some of reported remarks of representatives of the Bosnian Government. Clearly, it would be intolerable for forces to continue to provide humanitarian aid if those whom it was meant to benefit were proving so obstructive to troops doing that valuable work.