HC Deb 31 January 1995 vol 253 cc840-1
6. Lady Olga Maitland

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the implications for rapid deployment forces arising from the United Kingdom's peacekeeping role within the UN in Bosnia.

Mr. Rifkind

We arc developing a joint rapid deployment force to strengthen our existing capability to intervene speedily and effectively. Our planning will take account of a wide range of contingency operations, including peacekeeping.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the purchase of planned new equipment for the rapid deployment forces has been made possible only by the efficiency savings programme in "Front Line First"? Does he agree that the savings would be seriously jeopardised if the Government were ever to be reduced to falling in with the Labour party's planned programme of £6 billion of cuts in defence spending?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is certainly correct. The Labour party conference proposed a £6 billion cut in defence expenditure and the official Labour policy of promising a review would, if it were to take office, create an aura of instability. Either proposal would be bad for the stability craved by the armed forces at the present time.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that he could guarantee the rapid deployment of men, armour and artillery if he had available the future large aircraft? Is he prepared to say that the Government will purchase and join the project for the future large aircraft? Is he aware that when his Minister of State visited my constituency and the Airbus factory he made a very good impression? A written guarantee from the Government that they will enter the future large aircraft project is now required.

Madam Speaker

Order. That would have been a perfectly legitimate question if it had been asked at the right point—after Question 15 or 17. The hon. Gentleman is pushing his luck a little, but I am sure that the Minister will want to make some response.

Mr. Rifkind

The future large aircraft will not come into operation or even be available for at least 10 years. It may be the practice of the Labour party to give promises before knowing the price of what is being purchased or when it will be delivered, but that is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Sir David Steel

Does the Secretary of State agree that much of the recent criticism of the United Nations machinery is misplaced? As one who saw the excellent work done by British engineers in the peacekeeping force in Rwanda, will he accept that the development of rapid deployment forces would mean more timeous intervention by the UN and would prevent the build-up of tragedies such as in Rwanda?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if the United Nations is to be involved in a crisis that either has erupted or could erupt it must be able to respond quickly and effectively. It can thus make a valuable contribution, preventing loss of life and benefiting crisis-torn areas of the world.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the Third Reconnaissance Regiment, which is being created at Bovington in my constituency, have a rapid-reaction capability? What progress has been made in that excellent development of our armed forces?

Mr. Rifkind

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his words of welcome. The initial focus of the joint rapid redeployment force will be light airborne and commando brigades, along with associated air and maritime support.

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