HC Deb 10 May 1968 vol 764 cc151-3W
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to make improvements in the United Kingdom force contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in the light of the Government's policy that Great Britain's defence effort will in future be concentrated mainly in Europe and the North Atlantic area.

Mr. Reynolds

The European emphasis of Her Majesty's Government's defence policy in future and the need to maximise the conventional capabilities of N.A.T.O. to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence drew attention in the Defence Debate on 4th March, have led to certain detailed changes in United Kingdom force contributions to the Alliance. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend is today informing the present meeting of N.A.T.O. Defence Ministers in Brussels that, while we have not yet completed our detailed assessment of the implications of the major decisions of defence policy announced earlier this year, we can make some improvements in the immediate future in the degree of commitment of certain of our existing forces.

The improvements which, under N.A.T.O. procedure, formally relate to 1968 only, are as follows. Two frigates which were to have been withdrawn will now remain in the Mediterranean, earmarked for assignment to SACEUR. Two commando carriers and two assault ships, with associated R.M. Commandos, and a helicopter support ship will also be earmarked for assignment. Arrangements will be made for a commando carrier to take part in N.A.T.O. exercises in the Mediterranean in 1969. The Canberra reconnaissance squadron in Malta will not now be withdrawn this autumn as previously planned. We also intend to earmark for assignment the following Army units based in the United Kingdom: 3 Division of the Strategic Reserve, two battalions of the Parachute Force, the regular SAS Regiment and an armoured car squadron, the last named forms part of the land element of the ACE Mobile Force. The close support and short range transport aircraft of No. 38 Group will also be earmarked for assignment. Other transport aircraft will also provide airlift for the Army units I have mentioned.

These changes are being made in response to the requirements of N.A.T.O's revised strategy. They will contribute, in particular, to strengthening the flanks of N.A.T.O. and to increasing the mobility of N.A.T.O's forces These improvements in the availability of United Kingdom forces will strengthen the Alliance without detriment to our continuing obligations elsewhere.