HC Deb 29 March 1983 vol 40 cc173-4
11. Mr. Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied that the United Kingdom can continue to make an effective maritime contribution to the Alliance in and out of area.

Mr. Heseltine

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Secretary of State aware that in addition to NATO assigned roles, tactical exercises and operational weapons trials, the Navy is committed in the south Atlantic, to the Gulf patrol and to the Gibraltar and Belize guardships at a time when he is running down the Navy? Is he aware that the forces committed to Germany are absorbing a growing percentage of our defence costs—as much as 50 per cent. by the late 1980s? Is he quite sure that he has his priorities right?

Mr. Churchill

And the Opposition want to cut defence by a third.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) raises a number of important priorities for the Royal Navy. They have been carefully weighed in the overall priority of the Government's defence policy. Within the context of what we can afford, we are making a real contribution to the Royal Navy. For example, last year more money was spent on new construction for the Royal Navy than at any time during the past 19 years. There are now some 34 ships in the process of construction.

Sir Patrick Wall

As there is a grave shortage of escort vessels, will my right hon. Friend undertake not to scrap, but to mothball, frigates until the type 23 frigates are in commission?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend must realise that in the end there comes a point in the life of a frigate when it must be scrapped. We have taken a decision to run on rather longer than was first intended the TRIBAL class frigates that were brought out of mothballing for the Falklands exercise.

Dr. McDonald

How can the Minister give those assurances when he knows full well that on present plans the Navy will fall below strength by 1990? Does he admit that it will not be able to fulfil all its roles because the Government are determined to have Trident at any cost, and especially at the cost of our conventional defences?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Lady should consider that question carefully—especially today, when the Labour policy that has been announced will have the effect of reducing the annual defence expenditure of Britain by £4,500 million, which more than exceeds the cost of running the whole of the Royal Navy for a year.

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