asked the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he is giving to the replacement of the SLR rifle at present in use by the Army; and if he will make a statement.
It is our intention to begin equipping the Army with a new rifle in the mid-80s. The calibre will depend on analysis of the results of the recently completed NATO small arms tests but will be smaller than that of the existing weapon.
:Is my hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be warmly welcomed by the Army? Is he also aware that a proportion of the SLR rifles in use by the Territorial Army at present are in very poor condition and not suitable for resisting an enemy using modern weapons? Will my hon. Friend consider whether the replacement of those rifles can be speeded up?
My hon. Friend mentioned the SLR, which was introduced in 1956. Production ceased some 12 years ago. A continuing system of base repairs, together with the very latest repair techniques, is needed to ensure that the most economic use is obtained of these weapons. This is one reason why we are moving towards the new weapon as quickly as possible.
Will the Minister tell us at what stage standardisation will be reached? Does he agree that the movement of political decisions should be enhanced to bring about the standardisation which the Armed Forces so badly need? Does he also agree that standardisation will reduce expenditure?
I am very much in favour of standardisation within the NATO area and I have already referred to the NATOtrials. Whatever calibre is finally adopted, one can be certain that it will be standardised throughout NATO.
Is my hon. Friend aware that on the last occasion that a NATO rifle was adopted, the British contribution got very short shrift from our Allies? If there is to be further consultation, will he press our case very hard?
:Certainly. There is no doubt at all that the United Kingdom tender in the NATO trials is performing, extremely well.