HC Deb 19 May 1981 vol 5 cc146-7
10. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the principal priority defence task of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, respectively.

Mr. Nott

The main priority of all the United Kingdom's Armed Services is support of our defence commitment to NATO. The three Services jointly or severally contribute to the Alliance's strategic nuclear forces, provide land and air forces in the central region, maritime and air forces in the Channel and Eastern Atlantic, and the protection of the home base.

Mr. Hooley

From even that brief catalogue, is it not obvious that the Government's defence aims are far too ambitious? Would it not be sensible to cut out the nuclear ambition and abolish the scheme for Trident?

Mr. Nott

The aims that I read out are precisely the same as those that existed under a Labour Government. We shall be fully debating in a moment the general proposition in the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Stokes

On this very serious day, will my right hon. Friend assure us that in the next defence review there will be no reduction in the size of the Royal Navy or the number of naval ships at sea?

Mr. Nott

I shall go into all those matters at considerable length in the debate. There may be a reduction in the number of some kinds of ships and an increase in others. The operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces is more important than pure numbers.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will the Secretary of State reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley)? Does he accept that it was not the policy of the previous Administration to scuttle the Royal Navy surface fleet, to abandon our allies on the central front of Europe and to betray the North Atlantic Treaty by abandoning our commitments?

Mr. Nott

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's assurance about the Government of which he was a distinguished member. I hope that he will be able to say the same of the loyal Opposition when they develop their policy as we come near to the next election.

Mr. Viggers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a principal role of the Royal Navy in time of war is to keep open the North Atlantic for reinforcement and supply, without which we could not survive?

Mr. Nott

I entirely agree that a vital factor in any war on the central front will be the reinforcement of NATO, much of which will need to be done by sea. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend.