Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 1st July 1982.

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Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives 4:24 pm, 1st July 1982

I share the hon. Gentleman's wish that the maximum number of our merchant fleet, now and in the future, should be built in British yards. I do not need to say that the ultimate choice is for the shipping company concerned.

During the whole Falklands operation, our helicopters all performed magnificently. They flew round-the-clock in all weathers to provide anti-submarine warfare support for the task force, to carry out reconnaissance and to carry troops, stores supplies and men. The assault helicopters were most successful in the ground attack role. Our experience during operations in the South Atlantic has demonstrated clearly that helicopter support is vital in the land battle. It is difficult to see a situation in which there could ever be too many helicopters available to our forces.

I intend to authorise immediately the placing of new orders for helicopters to replace losses during operations and also to strengthen our reserve holdings where necessary. We recently ordered five Sea Kings; that order with be increased to 16—eight in the ASW role and eight in the commando role. In addition we shall purchase three Lynx and up to five Gazelles, and we shall replace all three Chinooks lost in the "Atlantic Conveyor". These and other equipment orders that I am announcing today will, of course, be subject to satisfactory terms of contract, including price.

At this point, I should also like to confirm to the House that HMS "Endurance" will continue in service, and after a refit she will continue to deploy to the South Atlantic. I shall return to the Falklands crisis later in my speech, but I must first touch on other matters.

When I published the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" last week, I said that it would serve partly as a reminder and also as a tribute to our Armed Forces who are now engaged elsewhere than in the Falklands. Their tasks may not have attracted the headlines in the past few weeks, but their work has been no less important.

Regrettably, the internal security situation in Northern Ireland still requires the presence of substantial numbers of Service men. They continue to play a vital part in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in containing terrorist attacks and bringing their perpetrators to justice. Their task is frequently dangerous and disagreeable, but their presence is an essential part of our efforts to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland can be freed from the fear of terrorist violence.

Further afield, our forces in Hong Kong, Cyprus and Belize continue to contribute to the maintenance of peace. Our relations with countries in many parts of the world are also strengthened by the military assistance that our Armed Forces are able to provide. Their professionalism and technical skills are rightly held in high regard. This year Service personnel are on loan to 30 overseas Governments.

That aspect of the work of our forces attracts little public interest, but it is nonetheless very important in helping to maintain peace and stability around the world.