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Falkland Islands

Volume 26: debated on Tuesday 29 June 1982

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are his plans for the future defence of the Falkland Islands.

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has for future United Kingdom defence commitments covering the Falkland Islands and South Atlantic.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about plans for the defence of the interests of the United Kingdom and its dependencies in the South Atlantic.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what measures for the future defence of the Falkland Islands he now proposes.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has for the future defence of British territory in the South Atlantic; and if he will make a statement.

We are actively considering what forces will be needed in the South Atlantic in the future. Meanwhile, as the House will readily acknowledge, there is in the Falklands area a substantial task force of proven capability.

Order. I propose to call first those five hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

As it is essential to provide for the adequate defence of islands that have been won back by our Services with such magnificent heroism, how will the right hon. Gentleman find the money to maintain that important commitment, to replace lost vessels, to maintain the 3 per cent. increase and the Trident programme and to carry out the necessary strengthening of our conventional defences?

I hope that I shall receive some small additional contribution from Her Majesty's Exchequer.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are 13 United Kingdom overseas dependencies, including the Falkland Islands, involving 5·5 million people? Does not the experience of the Falkland Islands show that Parliament should determine their future either in the wider international context involving their security, or—if they are to remain the sole responsibility of Britain—by adequately defending them and deterring any potential aggressor?

The constitution and future of our dependencies are matters for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Clearly, Hong Kong has the largest population of the dependencies, and, as my hon. Friend knows, we defend it in a substantial manner. The same goes for Gibraltar. Of course we will do our utmost to defend our dependencies, but not at the expense of the defence of the United Kingdom.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the task force's success and the expeditious retaking of the Falkland Islands were underlined by the interdependence of each part of the Armed Services? Will he reassure the House that that will be the cornerstone of his defence strategy and that it will be reflected in the logistics, organisation and administration of the different parts of his Department?

The manner in which all three Services worked together in the Falklands campaign was absolutely magnificent. Under the ultimate command of Admiral Fieldhouse, the co-ordination, goodwill and the way in which all three Services worked together was an example of how such things should be done.

Now that sovereignty over the Falkland Islands has been restored, will it be the Government's defence policy to regard any future attack on Port Stanley as if it were an attack on Portsmouth?

I am sure that if there were an attack on Port Stanley we would respond in exactly the same way as we did recently.

In furtherance of mutual defence interests in the South Atlantic, will my right hon. Friend open negotiations with friendly countries in the southern hemisphere, such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa?

I am sorry, but I am somewhat puzzled by my hon. Friend's question. If there is a formal end to hostilities with Argentina, we shall want to discuss the future of that part of the world with all the adjoining countries. Indeed, we wish to retain the excellent relations that we have with other South American countries, such as Chile, Uruguay and Brazil. Even during the conflict we retained reasonably good relations with all those countries.

What has been the effect of the Falklands conflict on our NATO commitments, and what will be the likely effect if we continue to defend the Falkland Islands to the necessary extent?

Clearly, sending the task force to the South Atlantic meant that a large part of our contribution to the maritime presence in the East Atlantic was temporarily absent. That goes without saying. Virtually nothing was withdrawn from Germany and the British Army of the Rhine, although I believe that a few soldiers were used. However, the Royal Navy was deployed in the South Atlantic.

Will the Secretary of State take measures to ensure that the defence of the Falkland Islands is not threatened by the supply of British arms to the Argentine? The Government continued to supply arms until 24 March.

I realise that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about arms sales. However, he knows that the majority of arms sold to Argentina were sold under contracts that were entered into by the Labour Government. We shall continue to review all arms sales. In certain circumstances we shall not sell arms to some countries. That policy will continue.

Would Argentine acceptance of resolution 502 constitute a cessation of hostilities and thus reduce the need for the present level of defensive effort in the Falkland Islands?

We need a specific declaration from the Argentine that hostilities have ceased. Given that we have repossessed the Falkland Islands, mere acceptance of resolution 502 would not be a sufficient indication that the Argentines intend formally to cease hostilities. However, the new Government have not yet taken office. We shall probably have to await that event before getting a clear sign from Buenos Aires.

Britain will no doubt have to keep some military presence in the Falkland Islands for the foreseeable future, including perhaps three or four frigates and other Armed Forces, but what effect will that have on our NATO commitment? Will there be a gap in our NATO commitment, or will the right hon. Gentleman build more ships to fill the gap?

In the short term, if we need to keep frigates in the South Atlantic, they will naturally not be available in the East Atlantic. Part of our NATO arrangement has been that, in a national emergency, we would be free to use our NATO contribution elsewhere. That remains the position.