Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 1st July 1982.

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Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford 5:15 pm, 1st July 1982

May I be allowed to proceed? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene later.

If we are to fulfil the obligation of keeping the peace outside NATO, we need a surface fleet. There is a great deal to be learnt about sea-to-air missiles, decoys, electronic counter measures, Sea Harriers and helicopters from the Falklands crisis. There is also a great deal to be learnt in general terms.

I agree with the Secretary of State about the effect that the hunter-killer submarines had during the campaign. They certainly kept the Argentine navy in harbour. In doing so, they saved many lives, British and Argentine. However, they could not protect the merchant ships, the landing ships, the marines who served so gallantly during the war, or the troops who landed there. Only "Hermes" and "Invincible" could do that, and only "Hermes" and "Invincible" did. We were lucky to have other makeshift decks. We were lucky to have "Atlantic Conveyor". 'We were lucky to have the brave men of the Merchant Navy.

It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East who, when he was Prime Minister, saw that we had the merchant shipping register. I think that that was about 1978. Would we have been in a position to send the merchant fleet train into the Falklands area if he had not done so?

We must learn that such an expedition needs to be protected by a surface fleet. I have tried to show that such a crisis can happen anywhere in the world at any time. The moment that one destroys that capability, the possibility of our being able to act is destroyed.

Again, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has learnt that lesson. I doubt that he will be in the same position 18 months or two years from now. However, if he were, could he mount that expedition to the Falklands again? Of course he could not, and he knows that he could not. That should have been the main lesson that he learnt.