Orders of the Day — Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 6th July 1982.

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Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan , Cardiff South East 5:12 pm, 6th July 1982

I am hoping to become a PPS again one day.

I want to deal with the particular issues, and I shall take a little longer than I usually do on them. I hope that I do not normally intrude in this way.

The present Fleet is designed for its main task of acting as an anti-submarine Fleet, and in the light of Soviet deployment I entirely agree with that. Its major purpose is to provide backing for the central front in Europe by protecting the eastern Atlantic and the approaches to Europe. Indeed, I should like its role to be strengthened in that area, and I shall come back to that matter. Up to the moment, it has been flexible enough to undertake other duties. It has been flexible because it has been capable of swift adaptation, and it has been capable of swift adaptation because it has had shore facilities and dockyard support. To cut that support will now undercut our ability to have a flexible surface Fleet which, although basically and rightly designed to meet our NATO responsibilities, has nevertheless been capable of operating in other directions, as we saw in the recent Falklands crisis.

Now some of the dockyards are to be axed, and the combination of a smaller, seagoing surface Fleet, and the withdrawal of shore support means that our Fleet will be less able to fulfil general tasks. It has been able to do that up to the moment. I am certain that the Secretary of State himself has sent task forces on tours around the globe, and that was done during my day. We should strengthen and continue that ability. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), had responsibility in that regard. I am not sure, but I believe that it was the intention to do the same this year, although the damage caused by the air attacks on the Fleet probably now make that impossible. However, with the cuts that are being made in the Navy today, we shall not be able to do that in future. So an element that has existed up to the moment is being destroyed as a result of this policy.