HL Deb 20 December 1982 vol 437 cc851-2

2.53 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

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 what is the approximate length of time that Royal Air Force and Army personnel are expected to serve in the Falkland Islands before either leave or return posting to the United Kingdom, and whether it is the intention that return to the United Kingdom should be for a complete unit, such as an RAF squadron or Army battalion, or on an individual basis.

Viscount Long

My Lords, British troops presently serve a five-month tour in the Falkland Islands before return posting to the United Kingdom. There are a few servicemen who serve longer. Others, including members of the air defence units, and fixed-wing aircraft pilots, who are called upon to maintain continuous high alert readiness, serve for shorter periods. Army and RAF personnel will be posted back to the United Kingdom by unit and on an individual basis, according to circumstances and other commitments.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, may I thank the Minister for that reply, which I think will be greatly welcomed in service circles, and among dependants of servicemen. May I ask whether the Minister can give rather fuller information on the conditions with which the men posted to the Falklands will have to contend?—rather fuller information than my noble friend Lord Trenchard was able to give on 14th December when he stated as reported at column 496 of the Official Report, that facilities were improving, accommodation was being built, and short-term ship accommodation had been taken.

Further, may I ask the Minister for how much longer will men be under canvas during the bitter, winter conditions? Secondly, are prefabricated buildings being exported from this country to the Falklands? Thirdly, can the Minister say whether there is any possibility of laid-up liners being used, since at present there are great numbers in our harbours and estuaries on the south coast? They would make much difference both socially and in terms of accommodation for the men in the Falklands.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his supplementary questions. Last week the first of the hotels, called the "Coastal", arrived off Port Stanley. It will house 930 men. It has been decided to lease hotels of similar size, to be in position in April 1983; that is, there are to be two. In addition, 800 hutted camps are under construction. The first two will be completed next month, and the rest by the end of April 1983; that is, on the basis that we hope that we now have that much time in hand before the winter. The camps will house 1,600 men.

Certain entertainment has already been provided for servicemen, and entertainment will also be provided for Christmas. Telephone calls are to be provided for members of the services serving in the Falklands. I believe that this will be on the basis of three minutes per serviceman, and the calls will be paid for by the South Atlantic Fund. So far as I can remember, those are the points raised by my noble friend, but if he has any further questions I should be delighted to answer them.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, is the noble Viscount the Minister aware that last week not only on this side, but in other parts of the House, concern was expressed about the conditions under which the forces are living in the Falklands? Although the concession involving telephone calls is admirable, is not the noble Viscount aware that there are difficulties in regard to the calls being made? Will the Minister be prepared to give a fuller Statement on conditions, when the House resumes the debate on the Falklands after the Recess, so that we can see exactly how far the Government have been accommodating in these matters?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his concern regarding this matter, and the Government will go along with his idea of a Statement after the Christmas Recess. I am sure that it would be the desire of the House—if I may take the opportunity—to wish the servicemen in the Falkland Islands a very happy Christmas and New Year, and may those of the islanders who have had such a rough and nasty time during the past year, have a very happy New Year.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, while I agree entirely with the good wishes that have just been expressed by the noble Viscount, may I ask whether he agrees that there seems to be relatively slow progress in regard to the matter that we are discussing, especially when we reflect that during the war a hundred or so years ago Isambard Kingdom Brunei sent a complete prefabricated hospital to the Crimea in rather less time than the present operation is taking?

Viscount Long

My Lords, I was wondering about the distances that the noble Lord was discussing. I believe that we are thinking of about 8,000 miles. I am not sure how far the Crimea is, but it is some distance away.