Falkland Islands

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1982.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Wandsworth Battersea South 12:00 am, 27th July 1982

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will publish a White Paper assessing the defence lessons from the Falkland Islands operation.

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

I have already informed the House that I shall be publishing a White Paper on the conclusions of our studies into the conflict in the South Atlantic and what these imply for the future.

Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Wandsworth Battersea South

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the published conclusions are as full and frank as possible and that the argument that certain things must be kept secret will not prevent the House from knowing what did happen?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

I shall make the White Paper as full and as frank as possible. However, there will always be a number of highly classified aspects to equipment performance. I shall, of course, be as full and frank as possible. I know that the reports, when we have them, will be of great interest to the House.

Photo of Mr Paul Bryan Mr Paul Bryan , Howden

Will the White Paper contain an assessment of the role of the Merchant Navy in the Falklands operation and draw relevant conclusions as to the size and composition of the future Merchant Navy?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

As part of our studies we shall consider the part played by the Merchant Navy. In particular, we shall consider the enormously valuable way in which we were able to convert Merchant Navy ships for use in a military role. That will certainly form a part of the White Paper. I do not think that we shall be able to draw any particular conclusions about the size of the merchant fleet. I am in favour of the largest possible Merchant Navy for Britain, but, in the last resort, its size does not lie within my control.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Does the Secretary of State recollect that from 21 April, when I was given an invitation to meet the Prime Minister personally in the Tea Room—an invitation that she gave to every Member of Parliament—until 9 June when I specifically raised the issue with the Foreign Secretary at Question Time, at c. 193, I nagged Ministers about the activities of Aerospatiale Dassault? Has the right hon. Gentleman studied the report from Isabel Hilton in The Sunday Times that Monsieur Hervé Colen and his team were in Argentina giving their expertise on the fusing and computer technology which alone can launch an Exocet from the wing of an aircraft? Does he understand that those of us who have talked to Isabel Hilton believe that her story is true? What are the British Government doing about the French assurances that they were giving every help to the British cause?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

From my personal experience, I can tell the House that the French Government were extremely helpful to Her Majesty's Government throughout the Falklands crisis. They went out of their way to give us every assistance as an ally. I have noted the particular allegations in The Sunday Times. We have no independent evidence that the allegations are correct, but I understand that the French Government are holding an urgent inquiry into those allegations. If they were to be true, I believe that the French Government would deplore them as much as ourselves.

Photo of Sir Timothy Kitson Sir Timothy Kitson , Richmond (Yorks)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the Select Committee on Defence was recently in Washington and the Far East, enormous interest was expressed in the equipment used by the British forces in the Falkland Islands? Bearing in mind that memories tend to be rather short, is he aware of the need to produce a report speedily?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

I am aware that our companies producing defence equipment are anxious for the earliest possible information on the manner in which their equipment performed. Within the next week or two we shall be sending each individual manufacturer a full report on his equipment. We are considering a wider report, but many of these matters are commercially confidential to the firms that produce the equipment. We are in the process of providing as much information as we can to assist British industry. The Select Committee on Defence can play a useful and important role in this matter. We shall provide as much information as we can to the Committee on this subject.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is important. I think that everyone in the House and in the country needs to be fully satisfied about the issue. Without pressing the Secretary of State too much—I well understand the points—will he undertake to examine any evidence that Isabel Hilton may care to give him and to take a personal interest in the matter rather than to leave it entirely to the French Government?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

The allegations are important, but it must be for the French Government to investigate them. With respect, it is not as easy for us to investigate the matter with French manufacturers as it is for the French Government to do so. I repeat that the French were good, staunch and extremely valuable allies during the conflict. If the allegations are proved correct, they will be as embarrassing to the French Government as they will be of great concern to ourselves.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.