Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 pm on 1st July 1982.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare 9:34 pm, 1st July 1982

I will certainly arrange to do that, but we have only about five minutes left in the debate.

Another subject of considerable importance which has perhaps been put out of people's minds by the Falklands crisis is our Army in Northern Ireland. It is important to stress that it is not a forgotten Army. The spotlight has been focused elsewhere recently, but our forces in Northern Ireland have continued to carry out their duties in support of the RUC. Those duties are often every bit as dangerous and difficult as those undertaken in the South Atlantic and they have been carried out with the Army's customary gallantry and dedication.

The general trend of an overall reduction in the level of violence in Northern Ireland has continued and we have been able to withdraw a further emergency tour battalion from the Province, bringing the total number of major units there to nine.

However, against that general background, the level of violence rose at the time of the Maze prison hunger strikes last year and again later in the year when a series of murderous attacks culminated in the assassination of a Member of the House, the Rev. Robert Bradford.

However, the security forces have achieved some notable successes and there have been a number of good finds of arms and ammunition on both sides of the border. A welcome development in the campaign to bring men of violence to justice through courts has been the successful prosecution in the Republic of Ireland of a number of terrorists who committed offences in Northern Ireland.

A series of bombing outrages and murders at the start of this year have provided a reminder, if any were needed, of the fact that there is no room for complacency in the struggle. The Government's resolve remains to bring the men of violence before the courts and to restore peace and stability to the Province. I assure the House that our troops will be prepared to support the RUC in that task for as long as they are needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) intervened to ask about Nimrod. I can tell him that Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft can operate away from their main bases. The airborne early warning version of the Nimrod will also have that capability. The aircraft could not normally expect to operate in ways that would run the risk of their engaging in air combat, although they have radar warning equipment. However, we are considering whether some maritime partol aircraft could be adapted to enable them to carry Sidewinder missiles for self-defence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) warned us to look ahead for the Jaguar replacement. We have made it clear that we will not go for a direct or early replacement of the Jaguar, but we will take full account of the needs of industry in our further studies on future combat aircraft, which will cover both the development of the Harrier concept and Tornado-related developments, among which the P110 could feature.

There are always difficulties in a two-day debate when many subjects are raised, but I have done my best to answer a handful of the points that were made. Time is against us on such occasions, but I have sought to deal with the major issues that have arisen.

We have rightly heard much about the future, but I look back to 1979 and the Government's inheritance of a defence machine which was starved of funds and equipment and manned by Service men whose dedication was tested to the extreme by low pay and by the fact that there was no clear path ahead.

It is easy for the Opposition to proclaim that the Labour Government ordered more naval vessels than we have, but I wonder how they imagine that those vessels could have been paid for, bearing in mind that the Labour Party is committed to further reductions in defence spending and the Labour Government had no clear plans on what was to be reduced. A declaration of intent is no substitute for a pledge fulfilled and I remind the House that this Government acted to bring to reality the fundamental, but ignored, necessities of a defence policy.

We increased Service men's pay to full comparability within months of taking office. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) does not want to know; because it is true. We increased defence spending by nearly 8 per cent. in real terms over three years. We expanded the reserves. The TA is now at record strength. We checked the outflow of disenchanted Service men and increased trained Service manpower by 20,000 from its 1979 level.

As to the future, we have not just promised a firm way forward for our defence policy. We have produced it. These are the firm decisions and the hard facts that we promised. It is they that characterise our defence policy—