HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc551-2
19. Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

What steps the Government are taking to improve the United Kingdom's ability to contribute to the United Nations peace support operations in the future. [55897]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

I announced, as part of the strategic defence review, our intention to sign an agreement with the UN that will boost our military support for its operations in future. The new memorandum of understanding, which will be signed by March next year, will revise and update our existing declaration under the UN standby forces arrangements. It will include those capabilities that we have strengthened as a result of the SDR and that are most relevant to UN needs: more and better-equipped rapid reaction forces, additional strategic lift and improved logistics support.

Mr. Jones

In thanking my right hon. Friend for his comprehensive reply, may I acknowledge the distinguished contribution that he and his Department make in support of the UN in that important sphere? In his efforts to have even better military support, has it crossed his mind that he would have a better force at his disposal if he had some 40 to 50 of the Airbus future large aircraft at his command? May I urge him to consider that and tell him that, if he did, my constituents would help build that aircraft?

Mr. Robertson

As ever, I admire my hon. Friend's ingenious way of promoting the interests of his constituents, which he always does with enthusiasm, dedication and complete justification. As it strengthens the future additional strategic lift capability of the Royal Air Force, the future large aircraft project is very much in our sights for long-term supply. It will become increasingly important in terms of our commitment to the UN, because it is clear that, yet again, Saddam Hussein is intent on engineering another confrontation with the UN. Force was an option in February this year and brought a climb-down by Saddam. Force must again be an option on this occasion because, regrettably, it seems to be the only thing that Saddam understands. He still represents a threat, not only to his neighbours and to the region but to international stability. The international community must stand united and firm in making sure that he complies with yesterday's unanimous view of the UN Security Council.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in recognising the role played by the Territorial Army and other reserve forces in peacekeeping operations in, for example, Bosnia, and in congratulating them on that role? Will he confirm that, with the cuts envisaged in the SDR, this country will be able to meet its commitments in respect of the TA and other reserves in future operations?

Mr. Robertson

I believe that we shall be able to meet those commitments much more efficiently. I visited our troops, including the TA reserves, in theatre in Bosnia last week. I was enormously impressed by their bravery, skill and dedication in rebuilding that country. The whole purpose of the restructuring and updating of the TA is to make sure that the TA can play an even bigger and better part in the sort of operation that it has carried out so well in Bosnia.