HC Deb 18 May 1998 vol 312 cc581-2
2. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

If he will make a statement on the availability of satellite television facilities on board Royal Navy ships. [41295]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Dr. John Reid)

While most Royal Navy ships enjoy a publicly funded capability to receive satellite television when alongside, only the carriers are also capable of receiving it at sea. In view of the beneficial effects on morale, I have directed that we should explore the possibility of making such facilities available on all royal naval ships at sea.

Mr. Murphy

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that, recently, I graduated from the armed forces parliamentary scheme; part of that process involved serving with HMS Newcastle. I was struck by the impact of satellite television on the morale of the men on HMS Newcastle, so I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend's comment today. Will he keep me, and the other people who are involved in the armed forces parliamentary scheme, informed of the detail of the negotiations, so that we can improve the morale of men and women serving on our ships? Many of them go to sea for six months or more and return to a very changed world. The lack of connection, day by day, to satellite television has a detrimental effect.

Dr. Reid

I congratulate my hon. Friend on achieving his fellowship of the armed forces parliamentary scheme—a scheme that I thoroughly recommend to all hon. Members. Places are now open for next year.

I believe that access to satellite television on Royal Naval ships would have a tremendous effect on morale. The subject has been raised with me, not only by my hon. Friend, but by several ratings during a recent visit to Fearless. It is too early to assess whether it is feasible to provide such facilities, but I hope that, if it is, it will be seen as a welcome boost for morale from a Government who truly care about the welfare of our service personnel.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I do not dispute in any sense the potential benefit to morale of satellite television, but would not morale on Her Majesty's ships be best encouraged by ensuring that those vessels have a full capability to fight and win? In that context, can the Minister tell us whether real progress has been made in getting the anti-air weapon system for the horizon 2000 common new generation frigates into service at the time expected and to specification?

Dr. Reid

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I believe that it would be of tremendous value to morale on Her Majesty's ships and throughout the armed forces if we managed to remedy the dreadful shortfall in all three services that we were left by the previous Government. He can be assured that that is a top priority for me, and if we can get full manning on ships as well as satellite television, that would be a bonus. Discussions on the equipment for the horizon 2000 common new generation frigate project are continuing, and the hon. Gentleman can be sure that we shall proceed with them as speedily as is in our power.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

Does my hon. Friend agree that morale was truly lifted with the change of Government? I believe that that has been the main boost to the armed forces.

Dr. Reid

I can give my shortest answer today: yes on both counts.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Are satellite television facilities available on board HMS Cornwall, and might an analysis of their use shed light on its role? Why has the Secretary of State not answered my question, tabled a week ago, about the role of HMS Cornwall? Was not the Prime Minister wrong to imply that, somehow, HMS Cornwall was responsible for the favourable outcome in Sierra Leone?

Dr. Reid

It is perhaps just as well that satellite television is not available, because if it were, I am sure that the crew would be more than upset by the aspersions that are sometimes cast on their activities—although not by my party. HMS Cornwall was deployed to Sierra Leone after the junta had been ousted to provide humanitarian assistance for the people, to support diplomatic efforts there, and to assist the return of the British high commissioner.

HMS Cornwall did a fantastic job in Sierra Leone; she helped to save countless lives, and the country should be proud of what she achieved. Her helicopter transport lifted 10 tonnes of food, 3.5 tonnes of medical stores and 1 tonne of general stores. The crew helped to repair and reopen the children's hospital and school, and the port in Freetown. We should all be grateful for and proud of what HMS Cornwall did.

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