HC Deb 12 July 1983 vol 45 cc755-6
14. Mr. Proctor

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many Royal Navy ships are currently deployed in the south Atlantic; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stanley

Naval forces currently in the south Atlantic include destroyers, frigates, submarines and afloat support, together with a survey vessel and naval helicopters. I cannot give precise numbers, for reasons of operational security. Force levels are kept under constant review.

Mr. Proctor

Does my hon. Friend think that sufficient forces are on station there, not only in relation to the Falkland Islands, but to protecting the sea routes around the Cape? Does not my hon. Friend think that it is wise and prudent to consult friendly pro-Western Governments bordering the Atlantic to see what further protection of the sea links can be made available.

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend will be aware that the forces in the south Atlantic are there to carry out our defensive obligations to the Falkland Islands. We are satisfied with the level of disposition there at present.

Mr. Duffy

Does the Minister recall the statement in the defence Estimates that the present front-line force of destroyers and frigates, at 59, is expected to decline to 50 later in the decade? How does the Minister reconcile that decline with the continuing Falklands requirement, the requirement for Belize and Gibraltar guardships, the requirements for operational training for ships as well as assigned NATO roles? Can the Minister wonder that some people outside the House query the Government's defence priority?

Mr. Stanley

We have made a number of significant adjustments to the deployment of destroyers and frigates following events in the south Atlantic. All the four battle losses have been replaced with type 22 vessels. We are retaining the three carriers. We are running on up to four ships that would have been on standby by 1985 and we are retaining in service for another year the three Tribal class frigates that were on the disposal list. That is a significant response to events in the south Atlantic.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Government discuss the detailed story by the political editor of The Mail on Sunday, Peter Simmonds, describing how Argentina was about to get from Italy and Switzerland Otomat missile systems which have a range of 125 miles? What representations are the Government making to the Governments of France, Italy and Switzerland about the acquisition of those weapons?

Mr. Stanley

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have already made clear to our allies our views on arms sales to Argentina.

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