HC Deb 07 May 1996 vol 277 cc8-9
8. Mr. Booth

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the extent of deployment of Her Majesty's forces in Europe. [26926]

Mr. Soames

British forces are currently deployed in Germany, Cyprus, Italy, Gibraltar, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, and they make a significant contribution to the peace implementation force in Bosnia.

Mr. Booth

Will my hon. Friend congratulate our forces serving in IFOR? Does not the success of their deployment there show that the proposal to put them under the European Union command is not only unwanted, but unnecessary?

Mr. Soames

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I join him in warmly congratulating the performance of the 10,500 British troops on the ground in Bosnia and the further 1,200 Royal Navy and Royal Air Force troops offshore and in Italy. They have performed outstandingly well and done great credit to this country. It is plain, when NATO had to go in, that it was the only organisation in Europe that could possibly have run such an operation because it has the command and control structures and the necessary equipment, kit and experience to undertake such an operation. It certainly would not be an operation for the Western European Union or for the European Union.

Dr. Reid

We welcome the decision to deploy four squadrons of Tornado from RAF Brüggen and its associated facilities. It is sensible on operational and financial grounds. We also welcome the reports at the weekend that the most fundamental strategic review of doctrine since the second world war is currently being carried out within the Ministry of Defence. We are glad that, despite the shouting from the Government Benches, the Government are doing exactly what we suggested. We are happy on this occasion that they should keep shouting one thing and doing another. It will make it so much easier for the next Labour Government.

Mr. Soames

I thought for a second that the hon. Gentleman was talking about the Labour party's policy on homosexuals, but clearly not. I must disabuse the hon. Gentleman of one illusion. There is nothing fundamental about the review. It is a drawing together of strategic doctrine to reflect the new joint operational structure of the Ministry of Defence, the establishment of the new permanent joint headquarters and the creation of the joint rapid deployment force, all of which I know will have passed the hon. Gentleman by.

There is nothing secret about it. Consultation will take place not only within the Ministry of Defence and across all three services, but with academics and many others. That is a serious and sensible response to a strategic doctrine which the country has been putting into practice for a long time; but, following the creation of the joint rapid deployment force and the permanent joint headquarters, the elements of that response need to be drawn together.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about Brüggen. We believe that we are taking a sensible step. Although I regret the fact that there will no longer be an RAF presence in Germany after a long and glorious history, there is no doubt that that is right not only for all the people concerned, but for the aircraft.

Mr. Wilkinson

I, too, greatly welcome the Government's decision to bring the RAF back from Germany: following the disbanding of the Warsaw pact, it makes evident sense. May I. however, urge the Government to bring the squadrons back from Laarbruch before 1999 and from Brüggen before 2002? It would make sense to have aircraft flying from RAF Honington again, and to have RAF Scampton open again, thus providing jobs for British people.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and acknowledge his expertise. He will appreciate that we have consulted our allies closely, and have assured them that our commitment to NATO remains unaffected. The four Tornado GR1 squadrons will be returned to existing United Kingdom bases.

I note what my hon. Friend said about Honington and Scampton, and I have no doubt that we shall consider carefully what to do. As a matter of fact, we believe that the redeployment of the aircraft in the United Kingdom will potentially increase their operational effectiveness. We hope that we shall soon be able to announce where they will be based, but I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.