Falklands Campaign

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:20 pm on 21st December 1982.

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Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli 9:20 pm, 21st December 1982

During the debate on the Defence Estimates the figure was given as £90 million. I assume that by next year the figure will be £100 million in view of defence inflation. Because the Labour Party believes in cancelling Trident, our policy will at least provide the adequate conventional forces that we do not have at present.

Page 314 of the White Paper acknowledges the crucial role played by ships of the Merchant Navy. Apparently, 45 merchant ships were in the South Atlantic. The White Paper also recognises the need for an urgent review of merchant shipping with regard to the Armed Forces. All that presupposes that we still have a Merchant Navy. As the House well knows, with the growth in flags of convenience and the registration of ships abroad, there has been a steady decline in the merchant fleet over the years. It has been estimated that if the Falklands crisis had occurred at the end of the decade, and if the decline had continued at the present rate, there would be few British merchant ships left to send to the South Atlantic.

It is all very well to talk glibly about reinforcing decks and doing other work on cargo ships, but that cannot be done unless the ships are British. It is time that the Government started to put money into the British merchant fleet to reverse that decline. In addition, they should also consider the powers in the Exchange Control Act and in the income tax Acts to prevent the deregistering of United Kingdom flag ships. As the House recognises, the White Paper inevitably means that more money will be spent on defence in the next few years. In 1982–83, the total will probably be about £16 billion, or about 5·7 per cent. of our gross domestic product, which, incidentally, is growing very slowly. I believe that that is the highest percentage of gross domestic product since 1963, before the withdrawal from east of Suez. The percentage will probably increase during the next few years, especially as a result of the 3 per cent. NATO commitment, the new frigates and the increasing cost of Trident. Indeed, the senior analyst at Greenwell, the stockbrokers, was quoted in The Sunday Times recently as saying: It is staggering how fast the figures are growing". There will have to be another review of expenditure in the next few years. When the Secretary of State produced his famous White Paper of 25 June 1981 he said: No enhancement of our conventional forces could possibly prove of equal deterrent value."—[Official Report, 25 June 1981; Vol. 7, c. 389.] That is a wrong, and very simplistic, way of looking at the issue.

The right hon. Gentleman still believes that we can have a low level of conventional forces and that we can rely on nuclear weapons for defence and deterrence. However, all the thinking in Britain and in NATO is moving away from that point of view and towards saying that we must have strong conventional forces to avoid the early use of nuclear weapons. We shall cancel Trident and use some of the money saved to provide adequate conventional forces.

When introducing his first White Paper to the House, the Secretary of State said that our defence policy was unbalanced and overextended. He has now apparently introduced his last White Paper and his defence policy is even more unbalanced and overextended. His successor will have to look at the whole issue again. I can only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do a bit better with his daffodils.