HC Deb 16 November 1982 vol 32 cc132-3
2. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the outcome of his review of the combat performance of the equipment and weapons of the United Kingdom Armed Forces during the Falkland Islands campaign.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)

I intend that the White Paper on the lessons of the Falklands campaign, which I have already told the House I am producing and which will include the operational, logistic and equipment lessons, will be published before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he cannot publish too soon the details of the alterations to defence policy that are obviously necessary in the light of the Falklands campaign? Is he also aware of the grave anxiety of Conservative supporters throughout the country at the frequent reports in The Daily Telegraph of grave dissatisfaction amongst extremely senior naval officers?

Mr. Nott

If my hon. Friend believes what he reads in The Daily Telegraph, and that story, he will believe anything. It is normal for journalists to check on some of the facts that they report, but apparently that practice spoils these stories. The White Paper is not intended to be a fundamental defence policy White Paper. It is about the lessons of the conflict, especially logistics, operation and equipment.

Mr. Duffy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the combat effectiveness of two vital systems would have been crucially enhanced if his Department had not dithered over the lightweight version of Sea Wolf and cancelled the Sea improvement programme for the type 42s?

Mr. Nott

The forward programme includes improvements to Sea Dart. The lightweight Sea Wolf is also in the programme.

Mr. Duffy

What about then—before the Falklands conflict?

Mr. Nott

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are spending far more on defence equipment than did the Labour Government. We must decide our priorities within the available resources, which are increasing, because of Government's policy, by 3 per cent. in real terms each year.

Mr. Banks

Is it not the case that the Rapier system performed extremely well during the Falklands campaign? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that our allies in NATO are fully apprised of the effectiveness of the equipment that was used?

Mr. Nott

Yes. The Rapier system performed exceptionally well. We are providing to all our allies, both to those, like the Americans, who are using Rapier, and to our other allies who are interested in the project, all the lessons that we have learnt about the equipment, which was an outstanding success.

Mr. John Silkin

Will the right hon. Gentleman be presenting the White Paper himself? Does he intend that there should be a debate before Christmas in which he will take part, or will that duty be left to his successor?

Mr. Nott

Unless the Prime Minister has a reshuffle before Christmas—I do not control that—I shall be presenting the White Paper. I hope that we can produce it in adequate time for the House to absorb it before hon. Members go away for the Christmas Recess. Whether there is a debate will be decided between the usual channels. Obviously, having published the White Paper, I should welcome a debate. Whether time can be found is a matter for discussion between the usual channels.

Mr. Silkin

This is a serious question. It would be curious if the White Paper issued by the right hon. Gentleman, who has announced that he intends to leave, for reasons that we understand, were to be debated by someone following him.

Mr. Nott

It is for that reason that I should welcome the opportunity of a debate on the White Paper, but the timing of it does not lie wholly in my hands.

Mr. Cormack

Is the House to infer from my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) that there is no truth in the stories that have been appearing regularly in The Daily Telegraph?

Mr. Nott

I am afraid that I do not know to which stories my hon. Friend is referring.