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Exercise Outback 88

Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if he will list the ports at which Royal Navy ships will call during Exercise Outback 88;(2) if he will state

(a) those countries in which defence equipment will be displayed by the Royal Navy for commercial purposes in Exercise Outback 88, and (b) what assessment he has made of their human rights record.

The detailed planning of the Royal Navy task group deployment is still in progress, and it is too early to give a list of all the countries which the task group is likely to visit. However, the deployment will include visits to Malta, Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea, as well as participation in the Australian bicentennial celebrations. The purpose of the deployment is to exercise with the forces of our friends and allies, and to demonstrate a British naval presence in the areas to be visited. In the process, it will naturally provide an opportunity to display a wide range of British defence equipments in the ports to be visited. The Government do not permit the export of equipment to countries with a record of human rights violations when it is felt likely that the equipment in question might be used for internal repression.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether any of the Royal Navy ships involved in Exercise Outback 88 will be carrying nuclear weapons.

It is our policy neither to confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on board Royal Navy vessels.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) which other navies will be exercising with the Royal Navy in Exercise Outback 88;(2) if he will list those areas in which the Royal Navy will be exercising in Exercise Outback 88

(a) with the

Unites States navy, (b) with the Royal Australian navy and (c) with other navies; and if he will state the purpose of these exercises.

Arrangements for the Royal Navy task group to exercise with the navies of other countries during Outback 88 are not yet finalised. However, I can say that during the deployment the task group will be participating in two exercises with nations which are party to the five-power defence arrangements: a maritime exercise and an air defence exercise in the South China sea area. The task group will also exercise with the United States navy, and with the Royal Australian navy and probably various other navies off Australia after the fleet review in Sydney in October. The purpose of these exercises, as with all such exercises, is to maintain the fighting effectiveness of our naval forces.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what assessment he has made of the impact on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's capabilities in the North Atlantic of the absence for six months of the Ark Royal and other Royal Navy ships in Exercise Outback 88;(2) if he will list the Royal Navy ships that will participate in Exercise Outback 88

(a) by port of departure, (b) by date of departure and (c) by date of return to the United Kingdom.

The task group is due to deploy from Portsmouth in mid-June, returning to the United Kingdom in mid-December. The task group will consist of Her Majestys ships Ark Royal, Edinburgh and Sirius, together with the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries Fort Grange, Olwen and Orangeleaf. The ships will remain assigned to NATO, and we retain the option not to deploy the group or to recall it to the NATO area in the event of an emergency.