HL Deb 02 August 1982 vol 434 cc519-21

2.50 p.m.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of recent events, they intend to increase, or still further to weaken, the strength of the Royal Navy.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I cannot accept the noble Lord's premise. Expenditure on the Navy this financial year is planned to be around £½ billion more in real terms than in the last year of the previous Administration. On present plans it will continue to be higher throughout the 1980s. We are pressing ahead with many new programmes, including the construction of new surface ships and submarines; and new weapons systems such as the Spearfish and Stingray torpedoes, the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile and improvements to the Sea Wolf ship defence missile system.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, arising out of that Answer, may I ask the noble Lord two short and friendly questions? The first is that, as we are now the only major power which has had practical experience of modern missiles, will we learn the lessons—and they must be many—to be drawn? There is no doubt that if so many missiles had not failed to explode our casualties would have been far greater.

The second question is this. Will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind continuously that this island was built up by sea power, sustained by sea power and we nearly lost two world wars through lack of adequate sea power? Will Her Majesty's Government see that this never happens again?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, regarding the first question, of course we appreciate that there are a lot of lessons to be learned and indeed, as the noble Lord is aware, a detailed analysis is being carried out. So far as the Fleet of the future is concerned, along with the NATO allies our aim is to have the best possible Fleet, within our available resources, designed for the threat. I hope that some of the things that I mentioned in my opening remarks will underline that point.

Lord Peart

My Lords, are the Government aware that we on this side take pride in our defence by the Navy and indeed in its important part in our defence, which we stressed during the defence debate in the House the other week?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. Our debate only six days ago very much went over these lines.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, has the noble Lord seen the estimate that in the event of conventional war in Europe 97 per cent. of American reinforcements of men and materials will have to be transported across the Atlantic by sea? Will he agree that the aim of raising the nuclear threshold, which is agreed by all parties, could not be better forwarded than by greatly increasing the anti-submarine capacity of the British Navy in the East Atlantic?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am not quite sure of the figures that the noble Lord started with. So far as the anti-submarine capability is concerned, we are of course working hard on that field.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend say when we may expect the further contribution as a result of the Falklands lessons? Will these be published during the Recess and will we therefore have an opportunity of debating them when we reassemble?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I have no specific date on that matter, but I doubt whether it will be ready during the Recess.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that if the Government were to abandon their ill-advised scheme to buy Trident II they would have much more money to spend upon conventional weapons for the Royal Navy and elsewhere?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord pursues a theme which I think we discussed only last Friday across the Chamber together. All I can say is that the Government do not agree.

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