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

The programme that I have outlined, including Trident, can be contained within the planned amounts that the Government have announced—the 3 per cent. growth in the defence budget.

It is already clear that, by any historical standard, the ships of the task force and its aircraft performed a magnificent feat of arms. The Argentine fleet was largely bottled up throughout the conflict in port or in home waters by our nuclear submarines. Our destroyers and frigates in the front line showed great courage in ensuring that the landing at San Carlos beachhead was achieved with such success. In such dangerously exposed conditions we could not have expected to achieve that objective without losses and damage to our ships.

Repair work to the damaged ships will be undertaken as a matter of urgency. In the immediate future much additional work must be done to repair battle and weather damage and, equally important, to catch up with the normal programme of repairs, dockings, and maintenance periods disrupted by the Falklands crisis. It is not yet possible to assess precisely the extent of the task or how it will affect the rate at which we move towards a naval operating and maintaining base, which remains the intention for Portsmouth, but I can say that no further compulsory redundancy notices will be issued at Portsmouth before 1 January 1983. The 180 redundancy notices already issued before 2 April will also, for the time being, be withdrawn. We should be in a position by early in the New Year to announce a firm plan for the rate of manpower reduction at Portsmouth. The planned expansion of Devonport and Rosyth will continue.

I have considered whether there are grounds for retaining the hold that was put on redundancy notices at Chatham. However, our conclusion is that the work required on the surface fleet as a result of recent operations can be accommodated at the other dockyards, including Portsmouth, where many of the ships are based.

Chatham has a nuclear submarine refitting load to complete but while we have re-examined the future nuclear work load in view of the proven importance of the SSN fleet, it is with regret that I must confirm our previous plans for the closure of Chatham dockyard and naval base by April 1984. That will also allow for the transfer of specialist staff from Chatham to Devonport to be resumed, which is necessary for the build-up of capacity there.

Gibraltar dockyard may take some of the less complex work arising from the South Atlantic operation, but there are no plans to reverse the decision for it to close next year. In discussing its possible future commercial operation with the Gibraltar Government we have proposed and they have welcomed the possibility of a continued naval work load.