§ 3 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young) rose to move that this House takes note of the White Paper The Falklands Campaign: the Lessons (Cmnd. 8758).
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I should like at the outset of this debate to express my own thanks, and. I know, those of my noble friends on this Bench and on the Benches behind me, to my noble friend Lord Trenchard for all that he has done as a Minister, both for the Government and for the House, over the last three and a half years. Indeed, I am sure that many noble Lords in other parts of the House will wish to be associated with what I have just said. He has done a great deal of work, first in the Department of Industry and then in the Ministry of Defence, and a very great deal of this has been done for your Lordships' House.
§ I am sure, too, that the House will want me to say a word at this stage about defence spokesmen for the Government in this House. I have asked my noble friend Lord Belstead, who will speak at the conclusion of today's debate, to act as senior spokesman for the Ministry, I fully appreciate the interest and expertise on defence matters which can be found in all quarters of the House. For this reason, I have also asked my noble friends Lord Avon and Lord Glenarthur to act as additional defence spokesmen. I know that all three of my noble friends are ready and willing to put themselves at the disposal of the House, both inside and outside the Chamber.
The White Paper on the lessons of the Falklands campaign concludes with the following statement:
The Campaign confirmed that the British people and their Government have the will and resolve to resist aggression and the fortitude to withstand setbacks and casualties. We and our NATO allies can draw confidence from this: the deterrent posture of the NATO alliance as a whole has been strengthened".
Simply put, the Falklands campaign reaffirmed a vital proposition: that aggression must not be allowed to pay. I am sure that noble Lords will share my hope that this proves to be the most enduring message of the campaign to those who may in future contemplate aggression against free peoples.
§ The White Paper analyses in some depth the military lessons of the campaign. We must await the report from the noble Lord, Lord Franks, before considering the extent to which Argentina's invasion might conceivably have been forestalled—and I will return to that report in a moment. In the seven months since the final military exchange, much has been said about the conduct of the campaign. I do not wish to dwell on this today. Suffice it to say that our victory could not have been achieved without the courage and professionalism of our men, the quality of our equipment (which shot down at least 72 Argentine aircraft), and the improvisation, technical expertise and efficiency of all those—including the large numbers of civilian staff—who supported the task force at home and abroad. We also owe a lasting debt to the practical co-operation and the political backing of our allies.
§ May I now refer briefly to the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Franks. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear when the committee was appointed, it is our intention to publish its report in full, subject solely to any deletions necessary on grounds of protecting national security or international relations. I understand that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister intends to make a Statement on the report shortly. There will be a full and early opportunity for this House to debate the report thereafter. Today, however, I wish to look to the future rather than to the past. I propose to discuss two factors which are of particular importance to the future security of the Falkland Islands. I shall also address the primarily political—as opposed to military—lessons which I think we may draw from the campaign. My noble friend Lord Belstead, when he gives his winding-up speech in this debate, will cover other matters in greater detail, including questions about military equipment.
§ I turn now to two issues in the military sphere, which must dominate the Government's policy towards the future defence of the Falkland Islands: first, the need to maintain a sufficiently large garrison on and around the islands to ensure their protection against renewed Argentine aggression; and secondly, the size and location of the islands' future permanent airfield. The latter concern does, of course, have an important impact upon the former, in that the permanent airfield must be capable of meeting the needs of military reinforcement, as well as civil requirements. Our ability to reinforce the garrison rapidly in a time of tension or conflict is a key factor in our calculations about the number of personnel which we need to maintain permanently on the islands.1188
§ After a careful assessment of the security needs, the Government have decided to station a sizeable garrison on the Falkland Islands for the foreseeable future. This garrison is responsible for the defence of the dependencies as well as of the Falkland Islands themselves. It is built around a strong air defence capability consisting of a number of radar systems, Phantom and Harrier aircraft supported by Hercules tankers, Rapier and Blowpipe units and by ship-borne missiles. The garrison also comprises an infantry battalion and supporting arms, a strong helicopter force, and a substantial logistic unit which even provides such back-up as laundry and baking facilities which are not otherwise available on the islands. At sea, it is supported by nuclear-powered submarines, a large number of destroyers and frigates. HMS "Endurance", Sea King helicopters, patrol craft and a number of logistic support ships.
§ As to the airfield, the garrison's aircraft are currently operating from a temporary surface which was completed in August after some excellent work by the Royal Engineers. In due course, this surface will, however, need to be replaced by a more permanent one. The cost of an airfield capable of taking wide-bodied jets, in addition to the substantial military infrastructure which would need to form part of such a facility, will be considerable. The Government are, therefore, currently studying the best site for a permanent airfield and are undertaking a careful analysis of the various options, taking due account of the civil as well as the military needs.
§ It is a matter of great regret that, since the ending of hostilities in June, the Argentine Government have still not unequivocally renounced the use of force to support their sovereignty claim. But the garrison has been working against the clock to repair the damage of war, to restore essential services, to isolate the minefields, to clear up the battlefields and to establish the necessary infrastructure to house all troops in better accommodation before the onset of the next Falklands winter. Large numbers of troops have been billeted in Stanley during this period; others have worked in atrocious conditions in the camp; some have spent long periods in tents. The garrison's top domestic priority is to ensure that all troops can be adequately housed in their own fixed military accommodation before the onset of the next Falklands winter in April. It is a testimony to the fortitude of the British serviceman, as well as to the good humour of the islanders, that relations between members of the garrison and the local community have remained so amicable.
§ The Government are investing substantial funds to replace the equipment lost during the conflict, to rebuild stocks and to provide for the garrison. The steps being taken are set out in detail in the White Paper. Wherever possible, the new equipment which is now being purchased will be used to enhance the overall capability of our armed forces, rather than be devoted to fixed assets in any one particular area of operations. It is essential that we allocate our resources flexibly in this way, since our primary concern must, of course, remain our contribution to the North Atlantic alliance. The forces deployed in the South Atlantic will remain committed to NATO, although they will inevitably be at a reduced level of availability 1189 for operations in the NATO area. Nevertheless, the multi-purpose nature of the equipment purchases arising out of the Falklands conflict, most notably the planned acquisition of six TriStar jets for tanker and freight-carrying duties, coupled with the overall strengthening of the United Kingdom's forces, means that the alliance's defences have been substantially enhanced by the steps we have taken as a result of the Falklands conflict. I turn now to the more important political lessons of the campaign——
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves that part of the speech, I wonder whether she would be good enough to tell the House—because it is of importance—what will be the on-going annual cost of the type of operation that she has now described?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I think your Lordships will see that the full costs of defence expenditure, and, in particular, of the matter which will be covered by this extra experience, will be set out when the Government publish their proposals. Furthermore, I can provide the figures, but I shall ask my noble friend Lord Belstead to do so when he comes to wind up.
I turn to the more important political lessons of the campaign. There is a difficult balance to be struck. On the one hand, the Government need to ensure that British forces are given sufficiently flexible rules of engagement to allow them to take any necessary action to defend themselves and to achieve their authorised military objectives. On the other hand, it is vitally important to ensure that the timing and purpose of military action is consistent with the Government's efforts to achieve a rapid solution through diplomatic and other means. These requirements call for a swift and effective means for decision-taking. Any decisions affecting military operations must be clear and unambiguous.
The machinery of Government stood up well to these tests in the Falklands conflict. Developments in the diplomatic and military fields were assessed at frequent intervals by a small group chaired by the Prime Minister. The strength of this system lay in the relatively small numbers involved and the straight-forward chain of command from the Prime Minister's committee to the operational commanders via the Chief of the Defence Staff and Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. Its other strength lay in the participants' clear understanding of their role vis-à-vis our forces in the area of operations. One cannot conduct a military campaign by committee from London: to attempt to do so would have been disastrous. But the Government are none the less well able to determine the overall objectives of military operations in the light of a considered assessment of the risks, to authorise the more major activity (such as an amphibious landing or the repossession of South Georgia) and to define the circumstances in which enemy forces may be engaged. These disciplines would need to be upheld equally tightly in the event of a NATO, as opposed to a purely national, crisis. In either case, the judgment and discretion of local commanders in implementing Government policy is of paramount importance.
The second major area of political interest is that of information policy. This is an area where the choices 1190 are rarely straightforward and the pitfalls may seem far more obvious with hindsight than in the heat of the moment. It is also an area in which the news media have not only an intense but also a vested interest. The Ministry of Defence has been criticised for releasing too little information too slowly and for saying too much too soon. It has been accused in some quarters of deliberate disinformation or news manipulation; but others, particularly overseas, have praised its reliability and accuracy. It has been accused, on the one hand, of endangering lives, and on the other of excessive vetting of press copy for so-called operational reasons; of insensitivity to the needs of the media and to next of kin, despite the extensive arrangements which it made on behalf of both; and of a lack of awareness of the need to counter Argentine propaganda, despite the major efforts at the United Nations and elsewhere to describe events as they unfolded. The only certain truth amid all this is that views on the subject are both widely and, in some cases, passionately held.
It is right that this important subject should be widely debated, not least since the relationship between Government information policy and Parliament's right to examine the Government's actions is central to our democracy. But in considering whether any improvements could be made to our future handling of such matters, it is important that we do not allow the diversity of opinions, and the strongly held views of some journalists, to obscure the key issues.
The first of these is that there can be no neat prescription which can be applied to determine the handling of any particular eventuality. The weight to be attached to each of the conflicting pressures which inevitably arise on any major issue can only be decided in the light of the circumstances at the time, including the extent of our knowledge of the incident, the number of British casualties, the likelihood of any early enemy propaganda and continuing operational implications. It is the Government's first duty in a time of war to protect the operational security of the mission and the lives of British servicemen. In releasing information on a military operation, any Government need to relate this duty to their responsibility to provide the fullest possible information to Parliament and the country, and to inform next of kin whenever possible before any particular loss is announced. In the end, this may all boil down to a question of timing: that is, judging the right time to release information, bearing in mind the possibilities of error and operational compromise as opposed to the general desirability of releasing early news.
These are all points which deserve careful consideration. For their part, the Government are keen to learn from their experience during the Falklands campaign. In addition to a number of internal studies designed to improve practical arrangements for the handling of media needs during a conflict, the Ministry of Defence has therefore commissioned two studies. The first, to be conducted by the Centre for Journalism Studies at University College, Cardiff, over a two year period, will examine the relationship between the media and the armed forces in a time of conflict in all its aspects. A parallel study by Professor Lawrence 1191 Freedman of King's College, London, will look at the operational implications of the speculation at the time by experts on television and elsewhere in the media about the future conduct of the campaign. A separate group under an independent chairman will consider whether any new measures, including the introduction of a system of censorship, are necessary in order to protect military information during a period of operations. These are all positive steps and we must await their outcome with interest.
In the meantime, I commend to noble Lords the recent report by the Defence Committee of another place into this matter. In view of some of the allegations which have been made, I might make the point now that this committee concluded, after an exhaustive inquiry, that it had no criticism of the pragmatic approach followed by the Ministry of Defence as to the degree and timing of the release of information; that the credibility of the information issued by the Ministry of Defence was sustained throughout the campaign; that it is surprising that more mistakes were not made; and that in circumstances of some difficulty, the basic goals of information policy during wartime were met.
There are, however, two other areas of concern to which I should wish to draw the attention of noble Lords. The first is the logistic lessons of the Falklands campaign. The White Paper concludes that the rates of usage of ammunition and missiles were higher than expected; that the size and composition of the logistic stockpile to support operations outside the NATO area needs to be reviewed; that air-to-air refuelling provides vital support for operations at long range; and that civil resources can make a significant contribution to a nation's strength in a crisis. All these aspects deserve continued attention in the future. They represent some of the less glamorous aspects of any defence programme; but they are none the less each vital, in their different ways, to the success of future military operations. The conclusion of my right honourable friend the former Defence Secretary in his White Paper The Way Forward in 1981, that the provision of modern weapons and equipment, and proper war stocks, was a better way of spending money for real security value than maximising the number of large and costly weapons platforms, remains valid.
The final area of policy which I think has important implications for the future concerns our defence needs beyond the NATO area. The White Paper describes how our out-of-area policy has been developing over the last few years. The Falklands conflict has given increased impetus to our efforts to further Western interests, and counter threats to them, outside the NATO area. The Government's increased emphasis on this activity does not in any sense reflect a diminution of our commitment to the NATO alliance. But it does reflect a growing realisation, which our allies share, that the West's reliance upon raw materials from the third world, and its interest in promoting democracy world-wide, are such that we must take active steps to support our friends world-wide and retain a demonstrable capability to respond to calls for help, regardless of the distance involved.
As my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Defence said when he introduced the 1192 debate on his White Paper in another place on 21 st December, Britain does have the resources to maintain its present course based on four main defence roles. The steps taken in 1981 to match resources to forward plans have proved successful in removing the strain from the defence budget. There is therefore no basis for the argument that the extra costs arising from the Falklands campaign provide a further reason not to acquire Trident.
The maintenance of sound defences in peacetime is a hugely expensive business. But the Falklands conflict has reminded us that the need to implement those defences involves a heavy cost, both in terms of human life and in terms of resources. The paradox therefore remains: that the more we put into defence, the less likely we are to need to use it. Nothing could provide greater testimony to the Government's commitment to this principle than the fact that all the extra costs arising from the Falklands conflict, including the maintenance of a substantial garrison there in the future, will be found from monies additional to the 3 per cent. increase in real terms by which the defence budget is planned to grow annually until 1985–86. And nothing could demonstrate more clearly this Government's commitment to the freedom of the individual to choose his own way of life and political institutions than the Falklands campaign of 1982. We may truly, my Lords, take pride in this.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper The Falklands Campaign: the Lessons (Cmnd. 8758)—(Baroness Young).
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Baroness, the Lord Privy Seal, for the way in which she has introduced this debate on the White Paper on the Falklands campaign and its lessons, and for giving more detail about the Government's thinking. While we are grateful to the noble Baroness for appearing at the Dispatch Box on this occasion, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. Although we did not always agree, we appreciate, as I am sure most Members do, the contribution he made. I am sure that we look forward to his part in the debate today. The noble Viscount's going from office deprives this House of a spokesman with direct responsibility. We all know of the great interest which this House always shows in defence matters, and although the two noble Lords whom the noble Baroness has mentioned will have responsibility in this matter and are highly regarded, nevertheless the loss of a defence spokesman with direct responsibility will be regretted by many noble Lords.
The White Paper is divided into sections, as the noble Baroness has said: the operation, the lessons, and the future. Whilst I want to refer very briefly to the past, I wish to look, as the noble Baroness has done, to the future, which is our common concern. The White Paper, as we know, is well documented and is factual. We are particularly interested in Part 3, which concerns the future. The Falklands, having once been lost and having been recovered, will nevertheless be a substantial liability for some time when Britain will have many more liabilities—economic, defence, and otherwise. The debate gives us an opportunity to review the situation on this occasion.
1193 Although there will be occasions when we shall be able to consider other aspects of the Falklands situation, we cannot consider the defence aspect today entirely in isolation. I am sure your Lordships will have used the Christmas Recess, as I did, to read some of the other relevant documents and debates—and I shall be referring to one or two of them later. The most important reports were those issued after much study by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, who, unfortunately, is unable to be with us today. In the earlier report, and in the more recent revision in the light of the Falklands campaign and after, his contributions, his vast experience and wisdom, so freely given, leaves us all very much in his debt.
We need to debate slightly wider than the defence aspects, because on top of those commitments the Falklanders must be a viable economic community. If the islanders are to live in freedom the life which they wish to lead, then a great deal of private and public spending will be involved. The total commitments must also be considered in respect of Britain's wider obligations to which the noble Baroness has made reference. Part 3 of the report deals with these aspects. In dealing with them, we must have regard to the priorities. Indeed, the matter of priorities concerns the first part of the report too. The first paragraph deals with the commencement of hostilities on 2nd April 1982. The theme of priorities will. I submit, go through this report and this debate like a thread and was relevant to the period leading up to the unprovoked aggression on 2nd April.
I am sorry that only two paragraphs have been devoted to events leading up to the aggression, when judgment was lacking and when priorities were stood on their head. I refer to "two paragraphs" rather than to "2 Paras." because that would have other implications in this particular debate. I will deal only briefly with that period but it is relevant, because the Argentinians were able to prepare almost openly for an assault which the Government did not expect—although the Argentinian media and other sources gave warning of the dangers. One wonders what happened to the intelligence services, or whether the Government chose to ignore the advice. The fact is that the Prime Minister had no warning of the invasion before Wednesday, 31st March—two days before the event. I am indebted to the Hansard record of the Parliamentary Questions in the Commons for 26th October last for that point.
Although the Prime Minister claims that the Falklands crisis came out of the blue—and those were the words used in that question—it cannot be said that the Argentinians did not have a clue about the Government's apparent intentions. I say "apparent", because in the period of some months before the attack many people thought that the messages going to the South West Atlantic were clear, albeit misleading. One example was the proposed withdrawal of H.M.S. "Endurance". Noble Lords will recall the very constructive debate in this House on 17th December 1981 when the noble Lord, Lord Morris, initiated a debate on the South West Atlantic's development opportunities. I refer to this not only because it might help us to get the sense of perspective that we should have in mind today. In that debate, noble Lords emphasised the importance of the South West Atlantic 1194 area, stressing the strategic importance of the area and that it was not just a matter of thinking about the Falklands—an aspect not sufficiently stressed in the White Paper. There is a much wider area of interest and obligation, which should be the basis of our concern.
As my noble friend Lord Shackleton said in the debate on 16th December 1981, which was some time before the start of the conflict:The subject of this debate is a very good one, because we are talking about the South-West Atlantic and one of the problems is in getting people to understand that this is not a single issue. It is not just the Falklands; it is not HMS 'Endurance' … It is a complex which needs to be looked at in a totality, because these issues are all very closely related.He referred to the criticisms of noble Lords and honourable Members in another place and the decision to scrap HMS "Endurance". He stressed:This is perhaps the most obvious and vital symbol that is at stake.He went on to say something which I am sure many of us were conscious of when he said it:It is not without significance that I have been approached by friends on the Argentine side, who have asked whether that meant that the British were thinking of changing their posture generally.He said it was vital that the White Ensign should be there; vital that there should be a presence. Maybe we shall be told that HMS "Endurance" is still there and that it did not deter, but having no Royal Navy presence, even as a communications vessel, was obviously bound to give the wrong impression. Indeed, in that debate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, claimed that withdrawal of HMS "Endurance" after 27 years' continuous service with the Arctic patrol, without replacement, was "a grave mistake".
On 9th February in another place the Prime Minister was asked if she was aware that the Government's decision to withdraw HMS "Endurance" was an error that could have serious consequences. She replied that:… there are many competing claims on the defence budget… My right honourable Friend therefore felt that other claims on the defence budget should have greater priority.Now, we know that the saving of £4 million was essential, according to the Government, and, apart from giving a wrong impression to the Argentines, Britain was faced with the consequences of the Falklands campaign, which, apart from the cost in human life and many casualties, will cost us billions of pounds. So we have a right to know how the Government support the case for saving £4 million because of other claims on the defence budget which should have priority. One is entitled to ask how the point at that time is justified in the light of more recent events. We were told by the former Secretary of State for Defence that we can afford not only to retain HMS "Endurance" but, now, we can also find the money to pay the billions of pounds that the Falklands campaign has cost, plus the cost of making the islands viable, plus the four main roles to which the noble Baroness has referred in relation to the defence sector.
The question is bound to come: how does that statement tie in with Mrs. Thatcher's warning about priorities? Can we be told about the costing? My noble friend Lord Cledwyn has already put a question on 1195 that. One is reminded of the Government's favourite question when money is wanted, "Where is the money coming from?" One fears that there are bound to be cuts in many other still very desirable directions.
In winding up the debate on the White Paper in the other place, Sir John Nott on 21 st December last said:The lessons of the Falklands conflict are described in the White Paper at some length. … In the last resort, we have learnt the lesson that matters more than any other. It is: if deterrence fails, the loss of life and expenditure of money are out of all proportion to the insurance needed to prevent that."—[Official Report (Commons). Col. 854; 21/12/82.]The Government's actions did not deter. In some ways, misleading impressions were given over a period of time before 2nd April which may have misled the Argentines into thinking that we did not take our responsibilities as seriously as we should.
The next point I want to make relates not only to the defence costs of the Falklands role but also the economic ones. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Shackleton for his report, which he has recently revised, on what might be done to make life worthwhile for the islanders. Winding up the debate on the development oppportunities of the South-West Atlantic to which I made reference, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale said:the Government are convinced that in the end more aid is not the answer. What is needed is the impetus which private enterprise and investment can give the islands' economy. But as long as the dispute with Argentine continues it will inevitably be difficult to persuade private enterprise to risk their investment in the Falklands."—[Official Report, 16/12/81; Col. 233.]Of course, he said that before the commencement of the conflict, and the situation is now much more difficult.
The Prime Minister has shown that Britain is prepared to stand alone in defence of the Falklands in terms of our commitment, as she put it last week, "for a long, long time". One is entitled to ask how long a long, long time is. She made what was called a personal pilgrimage to the Falklands, albeit without the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, who many of us thought would have benefited from being there and seeing for themselves the formidable task we face, apart from being able to hear the promises made and the commitments entered into by the Prime Minister, who of course is so often regarded as being the entire Government.
As the dispute with Argentina, to which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred, is still continuing, the Prime Minister's visit, while having some value, because she saw just what was involved, has nevertheless aroused some hostile feelings in the Argentine and in some parts of Latin America, and in some ways has made the improvement in relations even more difficult. I think most of us would agree that Lord Skelmersdale was right in saying that we must have improvements in relationships in order to safeguard the future of the islands. The question arises: do the Government now envisage that more public and private investment is likely, essential as that is to the islands' future? What action is being taken with the United Nations, the United States and neighbouring countries in the South-West Atlantic to explore whether they might help to share some of the task of safeguarding the Falklands and also of not only 1196 restoring but enhancing their viability? While few will deny our duty to protect, many will be asking for what purpose unless the islanders can live not only in freedom and security but with reasonable living standards. Even the alleged £X million a head already spent will not ensure that.
The lessons of the campaign must surely take into account what has been apparent. Wrong impressions, as I say, including HMS "Endurance", aroused controversy on both sides in both Houses of Parliament. The wrong impression was also given by the British Nationality Bill, then before Parliament, when in your Lordships' House an amendment to give the Falkland Islanders the rightful status of full British citizenship was not carried. Hence the recent Bill introduced into this House on 29th November last. It may, with Government goodwill, help to right the wrongs, but we admit that it is rather late in the day. A wrong impression was given about the status of those in the Falklands who should have been regarded as full British citizens.
The other aspect, to which I can refer only briefly, is the concern of noble Lords in all parts of the House about the proposed cuts in the BBC overseas broadcasts, where noble Lords were saying everywhere that Britain's voice should be heard putting the British point of view, which is so highly regarded in so many places. Those cuts had to be made. That insurance was swept away. Then, during the campaign, the Prime Minister rather wrung her hands and asked why President Galtieri was getting his case over and we were not giving the British point of view. Members on all sides could have said why that was. These were just three points, and I have no doubt that when the Franks Report is before us we shall have other evidence.
On the defence review aspect concerning logistics, to which the noble Baroness made reference, when the Minister made his Statement to Parliament on the White Paper on 14th December, his comments about the action proposed for future defence were welcomed, as indeed they were here. The White Paper proposes improvements in the airborne and other capabilities for out-of-area operations to respond to the unforeseen in a flexible and rapid way. The air-to-air refuelling provided an effective aid to transport over long distances and the Government's proposals for extending these facilities are surely welcome. Plans for the better troop lifting and carrying, strategic and tactical mobility and logistic support are also envisaged and are welcome, too. The role of the helicopters and especially the Harriers gave great support, and there will be better early warning facilities especially in the light of the deadly Argentine weapons which caused such losses. I refer to one of them, the Exocet.
One cause of concern during the campaign was the aspect of the export of armaments. In view of the concern that Britain was exporting arms to the Argentine right up to the start of the conflict, can we be told the position now, as there are still claims that parts of the Exocet are being manufactured in this country, as they were during the conflict? I think we ought to know what controls there are and what monitoring takes place to ensure that arms exports, which may be justified in some other ways, are not to our disadvantage.
1197 Of course, with the great distance involved of seven and a half to eight thousand miles from Britain to the Falklands, the way in which the transport was handled over long distances by both sea and air during the campaign was commendable indeed, requiring much organisation with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The role of the Merchant Navy also was an important factor. It is desirable, as the White Paper suggests, to consider their auxiliary role in designing vessels in the future. I am certain that the role of the Royal Navy in presenting a maritime presence, combined with the need for adequate early warning facilities and air protection, should be a major factor in future defence policy. This is far from clear, despite the pressure from all sides for this to be a basic point. It is no help for the Government to say, as they do on occasion, that we are spending more on these aspects than previous Governments did. The main question is whether or not our resources of vessels and equipment and manpower are equal to and matching the needs of the time. These are aspects which are most important. It was fortuitous that the cutbacks in the Navy, the proposals for scrapping vessels and even for sales of vessels before the campaign, were reversed, and in fact those vessels played a very important role in the success of the campaign.
I do not want to make particular reference to points in the White Paper, apart from the generalities on which I have been engaged, but I do want to make a reference to the "Sir Galahad". We all know that there were many acts of outstanding courage and resourcefulness, some of them brought about by the tragic loss of the "Sir Galahad", referred to in paragraph 124 of the White Paper, when 50 men died of whom 32 were Welsh guardsmen. Many questions have been asked about this sad affair and this is why I raise it. One question which has been asked is why the men were left aboard so long when their lives might have been saved had they been transported ashore. This is a question asked on many occasions and it calls for an authoritative answer from the Government. Could there have been a lack of good judgment, or could there have been even worse? This might be a chance for us to get some information on this particular point.
Although it is not possible to go too deeply into most aspects of the White Paper, communications is a matter for future consideration—I think the noble Baroness touched on this a few moments ago. I think the work of the inquiry of parliamentarians into the role of the media was very commendable and valuable. It does require more consideration, especially from the security angle. Here, of course, we are blessed with or hindered by the technological progress in communications; people want to know instantaneously what is going on and what may be taking place in the future.
One very important aspect of the White Paper is Part 3, which deals with the future. Reference is made to the Government's previous White Paper, The Way Forward (Cmnd. 8288), which identified four main roles for the armed forces. I think it is important to recognise those roles and what demands they will make on our national resources, so that we may be aware of the extra commitment which the defence of the Falklands, which we accept, will be putting on us.
1198 It might be helpful if I were to mention briefly what those four roles were, because that would give us more of an idea of the commitment overall. The main roles of the forces will include: first, an independent element of strategic and theatre nuclear forces committed to the alliance; secondly, the defence of the United Kingdom homeland; thirdly, a major land and air contribution on the European mainland; and, fourthly, the deployment of a major maritime capability in the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel. As the Minister has said, these roles will remain the priority for our defence effort and the enhancement and modernisation of the forces devoted to these tasks will still have the first call on our resources. Of course, these are formidable commitments. The Falklands White Paper, in paragraph 313, stresses that following the campaign we shall now be devoting substantially more resources to defence than had been previously planned. We need to know what is meant by the word "substantially" in terms of overall resources and cost.
Finally, may I summarise some of the points I have made and put one or two important questions to the Government. I would say there are several vital questions which must follow the White Paper's very helpful section on the future. The first question is, will the Government explain the conflicting statements made by the Prime Minister and other Ministers, both before the conflict and since, regarding defence spending priorities? Secondly, why was it that the Government claimed that they had to save £4 million on HMS "Endurance" because of other priorities, and yet they can now claim, after a conflict costing millions of pounds, that they can undertake all the four main defence roles, plus, as paragraph 313 puts it,devoting substantially more resources to defence than … previously planned"?Thirdly, will the Government reconsider their conventional defence role as a priority not to be sacrificed or curtailed dangerously in order to accommodate the nuclear role, and especially their devotion to Trident, about which concern has been expressed on both sides in this House and in the other place, as this will be a commitment which may well tempt us to reduce our conventional role, with the obvious dangers in any future emergency? Fourthly, how soon will the Government be detailing further their proposals for the economic viability of the Falklands in the light of the proposals of the Shackleton Report of 1982, recognising that there must be incentives for investment? On the latter point, may I remind the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal of the comment made by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos following the Statement which the noble Baroness made on the Shackleton Report in this House on 8th December:A satisfactory settlement in the Falklands is absolutely essential in relation to the maintenance of peace in the whole area of the Antarctic".—[Official Report; col. 193.]Of course, the noble Baroness expressed her agreement. I believe she also gave the same undertaking today.
Then, what plans do the Government have for discussing the future of the islands with others and to bring about improvement in relations with the Argentine?—because although some may be reluctant 1199 to go that far at the moment we still have to look to the future if our commitments in regard to defence and the economic viability of the islands are not to be overwhelming.
Finally, we should not conclude our comments without underlining the comments of Mr. John Nott in the other place on 21 st December:We have learnt, too, that at the point of decision in battle men count more than machines…What the compaign showed was that we have the skill and the courage to continue to play a key role within the Alliance".—[Official Report (Commons); col. 854.]I will end with the words of the noble Baroness in paying tribute to our forces. The White Paper in its final sentence says that the success of the Falklands compaign demonstrated conclusively the superb quality and commitment of British servicemen, the Merchant Navy and others, including the dockyards, those in industry and elsewhere. No matter how sophisticated weapons may be in the future, it is the substance of the people who use them which is our greatest asset. It is certainly essential that the Government should answer some of the questions, in order to give the kind of assurance which I believe the House and the country need at this time.