HL Deb 12 February 1991 vol 526 cc6-8

3.2 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have procured, for issue to the Army, a boot designed for prolonged wearing in operational conditions in the desert.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, we are procuring combat boots suitable for use in desert conditions and these are being issued at present.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply; indeed, it sounds like very good news. While an army is supposed to march on another part of its anatomy, does he agree that money is well spent if it is used to provide soldiers with a foot covering which is suitable for the part of the world in which they are serving?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is obvious that soldiers serving under the present conditions in the Gulf must have the best possible equipment. I can assure the House that they have such equipment.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, can the Minister tell us from where these boots are being procured? Further, if they are not being procured from home industries, would it be too much to ask the Government at least to support the finest boot and shoe manufacturers in the world? Also, can he give the House an idea of how long the "prolonged wearing" of such boots will be?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, there are two contractors currently manufacturing the boots. They are suitable for use for up to six months.

Lord Stallard

From whence?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I repeat, there are two contractors supplying these boots in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that 39,000 pairs of boots will have been produced by the middle of March.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in 1941 in the North African desert we had desert boots which were very useful articles? The only trouble with them was that they were not issued with the rations; we had to pay for them.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that I am right in telling my noble and learned friend that the boot in use at that time is the one which has now become the standard combat boot.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell the House where these boots are being made?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as I said in the previous answer, they are being made in this country.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, can the noble Earl confirm that a report was published at the end of October 1990 which highlighted certain inadequacies in the boots then issued to the British Army in the Gulf region? Further, can he advise the House whether the commitment made at that time by a Minister in another place to supply all British troops stationed in the Gulf with at least one pair of combat boots by mid-March is in fact running to schedule?

The Earl of Arran

Yes, my Lords; it is definitely running to schedule. As I said, there will be about 39,000 pairs of boots in the Gulf by mid-March. They are currently being produced at the rate of 2,500 pairs a week and that will rise to 4,500 pairs a week by the end of this month. Further, an additional order has been placed for some 63,000 pairs of boots.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, as our Armed Forces have been serving in the desert since at least the time of the Queen's Regiment in Tangiers in 1689, is it not odd that we still do not have a desert boot which is correct and useful for the British Army and produce such boots only after our soldiers have gone there?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the standard of the combat boot is considered to be adequate for use in the desert; indeed, it has been worn successfully in hot countries in the past. However, when it was understood that some soldiers had experienced discomfort because of the heat, urgent steps were taken to put the matter right.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is it not true to say that the equipment that the British Army had at the start of these hostilities was based on its commitments as a member of NATO? It was never envisaged that troops under the NATO banner would be called to action in the Middle East. Surely, therefore, it is a question of re-equipping the Army. Is not the time factor of vital importance in this situation?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the time factor is vital in this situation. That it is why the boots are being issued at this time.