HL Deb 29 November 1966 vol 278 cc617-20

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to what extent opportunities are provided in the Armed Forces for expedition and adventure training.]


My Lords, expedition and adventure training is an integral and valuable part of the general training of young Servicemen, and it is also carried out on an individual volunteer basis as a spare-time activity. Its scope varies from quite short and modest schemes in the vicinity of particular stations to ambitious projects such as the Joint Services Expeditions, the last of which went to South Georgia and the next of which will go to West Central Australia next year. This form of training develops in young Servicemen, both officers and other ranks, basic qualities of character—self-reliance, self-discipline, initiative and leadership. It does this by presenting a physical and mental challenge; and this is why it is not only popular but also excellent military training.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but I noticed that he referred twice to Servicemen. Are not women allowed to participate in these schemes where appropriate? Secondly, can he tell us the degree of the cost involved; whether there is any worthwhile scientific work done; and whether, in fact, any further schemes, in addition to those he has mentioned, are contemplated?


Service women do take part in these expeditions, perhaps not in the most arduous of them, although I can see no reason why they should not take part in the most arduous. The noble Lord also asked me about the cost and the scientific content. I think that perhaps the easiest way to answer that would be to refer to the West Central Australia Expedition. There is a strong scientific content; they are proposing to survey the area, and to do accurate mapping, to establish some basic survival techniques and equipment, which is primarily a Service matter, and to collect geological specimens and examples of desert flora and fauna.

Financing is partly from Government funds. The custom is that the Treasury usually pay for the travel. In the case of the Australian expedition, about one-half of the £7,000 comes from the Treasury. As has been the established principle of all expeditions of this kind over the last thirty or forty years, the participants themselves contribute and considerable sums of money are obtained from bodies like the Royal Geographical Society and other scientific bodies—all of which demonstrates that there is a scientific content. The noble Lord also asked whether there were any other expeditions in view. I should stress that there are continuous expeditions, some on a very small scale, some even in this country, in parts of the Highlands, and elsewhere. There are one or two bigger ones. The R.A.F. are in fact planning an expedition, which will be quite a big one, to Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, next summer, in which I am particularly interested because they will go to parts of the Canadian Arctic which I do not think have been visited since I was there thirty years ago.


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me whether the Government are doing the same sort of thing for the Territorial Army, in particular the A.V.R. 3, who have been deprived of so many weapons and need such tremendous encouragement?


My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord's Question is at all relevant, because the T.A. need all the time they have available for carrying out their military training. This is essentially training for Regulars, but I am sure that if any of the T.A. units put up plans of this kind we should be interested. They are, however—let us face it—civilians who spend some of their time doing military training. I do not think they would have the time for expedition training on top of their military training.


My Lords, in regard to these excellent schemes and the more far distant visits under them, can the noble Lord say about how many young people are engaged at a time in visits of this type and whether there is any chance of increasing their frequency?


My Lords, that is an interesting question. I cannot say how many are so engaged. On the big expedition to South Georgia, for example, there were, I think, about 12 young men, officers and other ranks, from all the three Services, taking part. This is the likely figure, for instance, for next summer's Ellesmere Island expedition, which, although it is an R.A.F. scheme, will include a soldier and a sailor. The overall number is very large. I will find out how many individuals actually participated in this type of activity during the last year and will let the noble Lord know.


My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister what steps are being taken to make certain that those participating in the expeditions are fully prepared physically and mentally for the undoubted strains that will take place.


My Lords, speaking with some experience in this field, I would say to the noble Lord that the expeditions are, generally speaking, better-trained and better-led than a large number of non-Service expeditions. This is a matter which, as always, is the responsibility of the leader; but there are certain criteria which are well understood in the Services. This is not to suggest that, as with any activity—and a life was lost on the recent naval expedition to North Greenland—accidents do not occasionally happen.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether the two young men who rowed across the Atlantic were engaged in this form of training or whether it was a matter of private enterprise?


My Lords, it was entirely private enterprise; and I understand, and hope, it was fairly profitable.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that some of the products of adventure training in the R.A.F. are the excellent mountain rescue teams, some of which are located in Scotland, and will he ensure that there is adequate financial provision for their proper continuance?


My Lords, there is a Question down for tomorrow, I believe, on mountain rescue teams; but the noble Lord knows that I share his sympathy in this matter.