HC Deb 26 January 1982 vol 16 cc736-7
7. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he intends to continue to deploy Royal Naval vessels in the Indian Ocean; and what plans he has to deploy naval task forces outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation area.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

There are no immediate plans to end the Royal Navy presence in the Indian Ocean. As announced in the White Paper, Cmnd. 8288, we intend to resume this year naval task group deployments outside the NATO area.

Mr. Trotter

I welcome that commitment to an overseas presence, but, given Admiral Gorshkov's statement that the Soviet Navy can win wars by its presence, without firing a shot, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the Royal Navy's role is to preserve the peace as much by its presence as by fighting a war?

Mr. Wiggin

I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. Task groups are deployed to demonstrate Britain's capability to defend its interests and those of its allies outside the NATO area as well as to enhance relations with friendly countries in those parts of the world.

Mr. Newens

What further military development of Diego Garcia is proposed by the United States of America, which has a heavy concentration of forces in that area? Is the role of British personnel stationed there solely that of a support force? Will the Minister note that many of us would greatly deplore an increase in the British commitment in that part of the globe?

Mr. Wiggin

Those remarks fall well outside the purview of the question. I understand that our interests are very small.

Mr. Churchill

Is my hon. Friend aware that the British public are profoundly puzzled and surprised by the proposed sale of HMS "Invincible", which is the most modern and valuable of the Royal Navy's defence assets? According to experts on both sides of the Atlantic, since that class of carrier was first ordered, the threat to our energy supplies, to the Cape sea route and to transatlantic communications in a period of tension—let alone in a period of war—has grown. Therefore, will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government will reconsider the proposed sale?

Mr. Wiggin

Again, such points are outside the purview of the question. However, if my hon. Friend studies the White Paper he will find that whatever the Government are planning can be found in it.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is it not true that vessels are deployed in the Indian Ocean, not for strategic reasons, but to satisfy the Prime Minister's delusions of grandeur and to help President Reagan with his rapid deployment force and the base on Diego Garcia? As the Government have made such drastic cuts in the Royal Navy, would it not be better to deploy those vessels in the Eastern Atlantic, instead of sailing them aimlessly round the Indian Ocean?

Mr. Wiggin

As I said, the original deployment was the direct result of the war between Iraq and Iran and the necessity to protect British and allied interests if the Straits of Hormuz were closed. Although that risk has decreased, it is judicious to keep ships in that part of the world.