HL Deb 21 December 1983 vol 446 cc725-6

11.12 a.m.

Lord Kennet

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is to be the name and the total long-term strength of the proposed British rapid intervention force; and whether it is proposed to pre-position military supplies or equipment for it anywhere outside the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence recently announced a package of measures which will enhance the capability of 5 Brigade to undertake deployments and operations outside the NATO area, although the brigade's primary role remains home defence. These measures will bring the brigade's long-term strength to approximately 4,500 and will mean that more members of the brigade will be given parachute training. The brigade has now been re-titled 5 Airborne Brigade. We have no plans to pre-position supplies or equipment for the brigade outside the United Kingdom.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, can the Government undertake to the House that a Statement will be made to Parliament before 5 Airborne Brigade is ever deployed outside the NATO area, giving a very clear account of the reasons for which it is being deployed; and, further, that if it is so deployed and the reasons are ever changed, an immediate Statement to that effect will be made to Parliament?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I must say that I cannot conceive of a situation where 5 Airborne Brigade would be deployed without Parliament having some interest in the matter, but I think that I should want to stop short of giving the assurance for which the noble Lord asks.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us where we have in mind to intervene rapidly? Is not the real purpose of this force to enable our Prime Minister next time to beat the President to the draw? If that is the intention, there are some of us who are a little nervous.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I should have thought that the events of last year would have persuaded us to prepare for the unexpected. Therefore, I cannot tell the noble Lord where in particular we might wish to deploy this unit.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, can the Minister say in what circumstances such a force would be used in the United Kingdom or outside, and also what qualities are needed by the force which are not already met by other forms of our Armed Forces?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I say, we came to the conclusion that we needed to make some enhancement to our ability to intervene in areas where vital British interests are threatened outside the immediate NATO area, and that was why we made the changes in the enhancements to this brigade—most particularly, as I have said, an air-transportable capability.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord not agree that the consequences of rapid deployment have usually been unfortunate, if not disastrous, for whichever country carries out such a deployment?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I would not say that at all, no.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, has the noble Lord the Minister noticed that he has already given a commitment of a sort by using the words "where vital British interests are affected"? Is this not perhaps excessively limiting the circumstances in which such a brigade might be sent out of the NATO area?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not think that I quite follow the gist of the noble Lord's question. I would not wish to go further than I have done. Clearly, we have enhanced the facilities that existed to enable deployments to be made when we think they are appropriate in British interests.