Rapid Deployment Force

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 11 Mehefin 1996.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington 12:00, 11 Mehefin 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the benefits of a joint rapid deployment force. [30889]

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

The joint rapid deployment force will enhance our fighting capability by creating a force trained and equipped to respond effectively and speedily to future crises. The JRDF will be drawn from a range of assigned units from all three services, enabling the permanent joint headquarters to assemble a force appropriate to any particular operation.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a role for the Western European Union to play in that context, especially in the light of the combined joint task force agreement that was arrived at in Berlin by the NATO council only last week?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

I am not sure whether I have ever had the opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work as president of the WEU assembly. He does a wonderful job, much to the credit of his country.

My ambition is that the joint rapid deployment force be a thoroughly flexible force that is available for national contingencies, for NATO and as part of a combined joint task force within NATO. Thanks to the agreement made in Berlin last week by NATO Foreign Ministers, it could naturally play a part in a combined joint task force under the political control of the WEU, should there be a Europe-only operation.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

While I associate myself with the Secretary of State's comments about the work of the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) in the WEU, does he expect us to believe that, given the Government's enormous cuts in the manpower of Her Majesty's forces in the past few years, any rapid deployment force could be immediately viable or exist other than on paper?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

Yes. It is going to exist. It is being brought together at the moment. It will be a highly effective force based on 3 Commando Brigade and 5 Airborne Brigade. It will have available all the support units that it may need. It will be carried forward in such a way that training between the various components will be a matter of routine. The hon. Gentleman should not be misled; this will not be a paper exercise but an important new capability for the British armed forces. He should direct his attention to his party's proposals to cut defence from where we are now by a further £4.5 billion.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme

May I, through my right hon. Friend, pay tribute to the superb job that British forces are doing in Bosnia through their participation in IFOR? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, in all future rapid deployments overseas, British forces, where appropriate, are provided with air-portable, air-conditioned and air-filtered operating theatres? The Defence Select Committee had that lack drawn to its attention during our recent visit to Bosnia.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. It has been a magnificent and highly successful operation. We are in danger of forgetting how complex it has been, how much planning was necessary, how successful was the logistical support, how much risk there was and how well it has been done. I believe that our forces have had at all times the appropriate medical back-up, but I agree that, when one is engaged in an operation of such size, it is sensible to take stock of the lessons that can be learned. I am keen to make sure that we learn the lessons for the medical and other fields. I undertake to consider that carefully.