HC Deb 14 July 1987 vol 119 cc966-7
9. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the future defence of the Falkland Islands.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Ian Stewart)

As announced in the Gracious Speech, the Government will stand by their pledges to the people of the Falkland Islands, while seeking more normal relations with Argentina. We shall continue to maintain a military presence at a level necessary to deter aggression arid defend the islands.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Will Ministers regularly inform the House of the progressive fall in the cost of this necessary and righteous commitment'? To what extent can the use of the unrivalled training facilities in the Falklands be set against the expense?

Mr. Stewart

I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall keep the House informed in the normal way through the Defence White Paper and other means of our efforts in the Falkland Islands. I endorse what he said about the value of the Falkland Islands in providing training for all our armed forces. We fully appreciate the importance of that.

Mr. Flannery

Would it not help the cause of peace in the Falklands if the Government took a far more vigorous initiative in organising discussions with the Government of Argentina? Does the Minister realise that the position of the Falklands empowers the military caste in Argentina to be a permanent threat to President Alfonsin and the democratic forces in Argentina? It is therefore a matter of real necessity for the preservation of democracy in Argentina for us to take the initiative in discussions about the Falklands.

Mr. Stewart

Relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina are primarily a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. We want the restoration of normal relations with Argentina, and we hope that in due course they will come about.

Mr. Roger King

Can my hon. Friend confirm that since the construction of the new Falklands airport the cost of defending the Falklands has been reduced accordingly?

Mr. Stewart

It is true that the construction of the Mount Pleasant complex and the airport permits rapid reinforcement and has enabled some reduction in force numbers to be brought about. That has reduced, and will continue to reduce, the cost of maintaining the defence of the islands.

Mr. Ashdown

For how long do the Government intend to persist in their policy of privatising the defence of the Falklands by using Bristow Helicopters and flying foreign-made aircraft to support our armed services? Are the armed services not to be excluded from the Government's obsession with privatisation? Does the Minister not realise the sense of outrage that is felt in constituencies such as mine that are suffering massive job losses because the Government will not provide the helicopters that our armed services need, while providing long-term work for private companies using foreign-made aircraft?

Mr. Stewart

We have provided a large number of new helicopters. The hon. Gentleman made his constituency point. We shall continue to provide our armed forces in the Falkland Islands, and elsewhere, with the equipment that they need.

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