HC Deb 27 April 1982 vol 22 cc717-8
18. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many of the vessels engaged in the Falkland Islands task force are due to be sold or scrapped.

Mr. Blaker

With the exception of HMS "Endurance", whose long-term future we shall be considering, one warship and three Royal Fleet Auxiliaries are due to be disposed of by the end of next year.

Mr. Beith

Do Ministers now recognise that the decision to scrap HMS "Endurance" was taken by the Argentine as a signal that Britain would not be ready to defend the Falkland Islands? Is he aware that the British public were genuinely horrified to learn that the Government regarded as unnecessary the vessels and dockyards that were so effectively pressed into service? Does he appreciate that that calls into question not only the policy but the continued position of the Ministers responsible?

Mr. Blaker

I think that the Government have conceded that the planned withdrawal of HMS "Endurance" may have been taken by the Argentines as some kind of signal, but HMS "Endurance" cannot have been taken by them as a deterrent, because the invasion occurred when it was still on station. With regard to the launching of the task force, as my right hon. Friend has said, we could repeat such an effort in the future after our plans have been put into effect.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the substantial reduction in the equipment and the morale of the Armed Forces during the period of the Lib-Lab pact and the intense opposition of the Labour and Liberal parties to the Government's proposals to increase spending on defence, does it not surprise my hon. Friend that we should now be hearing cries for further defence expenditure from right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches?

Mr. Blaker

I agree with my hon. Friend. I was not aware that any of the Opposition parties was planning to spend more on defence than the Government are. I repeat a point that has already been made, that under our present plans we shall have more major ships in operation in 1985 than we have now.

Mr. John Silkin

Is the hon. Gentleman not deluding himself and the House when he imagines that by closing down the Gibraltar, Chatham and, virtually, the Portsmouth dockyards we will in future be able to have a task force that is capable of being anything like the present task force?

Mr. Blaker

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has not yet fully seized the importance of the fact that we are to do away with the major mid-life modernisations that we have previously undertaken. The consequence is that in 1985 we shall have more major ships operational than we have at present.