§ 10. Mr. Leighton
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what were the circumstances in which the Royal Fleet Auxiliary "Fort Austin" sailed for the South Atlantic in March.
§ Mr. Leighton
Is the right hon. Gentleman confirming that the "Fort Austin" sailed before the Prime Minister said on 31 March that she was aware of the possibility of an Argentine invasion? Does it not stretch credulity too far to imagine that a ship of that size was meant to provision HMS "Endurance"? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a clean breast of this issue and say whether the vessel was sent to retrieve and collect the nuclear weapons that were contained on the ships of the task force?
§ Mr. Prescott
Is the Secretary of State aware that the merchant seamen now on board this vessel in the Falkland Islands are in industrial dispute because the Department refuses to pay them the danger and hardship allowance paid to other merchant seamen sailing on civilian vessels? In the interests of justice, will he intervene, correct the injustices and return the ship to full operation?
§ Mr. Nott
I shall look into the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. However, in general the performance of our merchant seamen in the Falklands conflict was absolutely outstanding. The negotiations that we undertook at the outset of that conflict provided a substantial and well-deserved augmentation to the Merchant Navy's pay and allowances. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman or anyone else can say that they were not extremely well paid for doing a marvellous job.
§ Dr. McDonald
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the sending of the "Fort Austin" had nothing whatever to do with the invasion of the Falklands by Argentina? Is he saying that the Ministry of Defence knew nothing whatever of the invasion before the Prime Minister heard of it two or three days later? Will he also confirm that the sole purpose of the visit of "Fort Austin" was to provision HMS "Endurance"?
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply involving a lie—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Did the hon. Gentleman say that it was a lie? If so, he knows that he must withdraw the remark.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a parliamentarian and knows that he cannot accuse anyone of telling a lie. The sooner he withdraws that remark, the sooner we can return to questions.