HC Deb 14 February 1984 vol 54 cc112-3
4. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total cost to date to the Defence Vote in relation to the Falklands since the Argentine invasion.

Mr. Stanley

The cost of the Falklands campaign and subsequent expenditure in 1982–83 was £780 million. For 1983–84, provision of £624 million was included in the defence budget to meet the extra cost of the Falklands garrison, the cost of replacing capital equipment lost and residual campaign costs.

Mr. Hoyle

For how long does the Minister think we can afford the Prime Minister's folly? Would it not be better to seek some settlement, preferably under United Nations auspices?

Mr. Stanley

We can afford the costs of replacing the losses of the Falklands campaign and, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government have decided to finance that by an addition to the defence budget. As for relations with Argentina, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that, while sovereignty is not on the agenda and is not negotiable, we wish to normalise relations with Argentina, particularly in the commercial area.

Mr. Dickens

Does my hon. Friend think that it is possible to put a price on freedom and democracy? Are we not compelled to follow the road along which we are going and continue to support the people of the Falkland Islands, having fought and lost lives for those people?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend, as ever, has got to the nub of the issue.

Mr. Dalyell

In answer to straightforward questions from the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, and to many questions from me in the House, about the costs of chartering ships, Ministers take refuge in "reasons of commercial confidentiality". Has not commercial confidentiality a great deal more to do with the political convenience of Ministers than with the national interest?

Mr. Stanley

The policy of successive Governments and of all Government Departments in not disclosing matters of commercial confidentiality, in the interest of the Government being able to negotiate the most favourable terms, is very long established.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Does my hon. Friend agree that the time has arrived when he should inquire of the Opposition for how many pieces of silver per head they would have sold the population of the Falklands?

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am certain that if the Labour party had been in office the repossession of the Falklands would not have taken place.

Mr. McCusker

Is Harland and Wolff of Belfast on schedule for a successful completion of the contract which it was awarded for the Falklands dockyard?

Mr. Stanley

I do not have the details of that contract with me, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Does the Minister remember that under a Labour Government we never lost the Falkland Islands and that they were never invaded? Is he aware that if his Government had shown rather more prudence the invasion would not have taken place? [Interruption.] Do not the figures which he has given show the enormous burden which the fortress Falklands policy is placing on defence expenditure? Is he aware of the burden that that is also placing on our NATO commitment, on sea and on land? Is he further aware that, whatever our relations with Argentina, before long there will have to be a substantial reduction in the garrison on the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Stanley

As for what would have happened under a Labour Government, that is, happily, a hypothetical question, but I am certain that if the Labour party had been in office in 1982 the garrison size on the Falklands would have been exactly the same as it was when we were in office at that time. As for the costs of the garrison, I hope that we shall have the support of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) in proceeding with the strategic airfield, which will give us much more flexibility than we have now in terms of the size of the garrison.