Defence Estimates

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 19th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 5:59 pm, 19th July 1983

The hon. Gentleman says "Probably", but let Ministers say it. I shall give way on this important issue to those who are seriously interested in defence. Am I wrong to suggest that only six British hunter-killer submarines are available to NATO? As there is no intervention, I shall assume that my suggestion is not wide of the mark, so we can establish that we have a much smaller force of nuclear submarines available to NATO than was deemed necessary.

Let us have none of the cant about how vital the south Atlantic is as a strategic area. When Lord Lewin was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley whether he had asked for a Falklands base before April 1982, he pleaded that it was privileged information. All the talk of defending 300 million tonnes of shipping round the cape — not Cape Horn, but the Cape of Good Hope—is rationalising after the event. We must examine the map. The Falklands are 3,500 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, and I do not understand why the former Chief of Defence Staff chose last Saturday night on the BBC to say that the Falklands would be a good base from which to defend the 150 million tonnes of oil that are carried round the Cape of Good Hope. That is rationalisation ex post facto. If we wished to defend shipping round the Cape of Good Hope, we would do it from the base on Ascension Island, not from the Falklands.

I have come to believe—it cannot be proved—that Ascension Island was being prepared for the Falklands crisis in February 1982, weeks before most hon. Members had heard of a task force. It has been said time and again that it is a miracle that Nimrods could operate so quickly from Ascension Island. I am sceptical about military miracles, which are usually the result of careful planning. There has been no answer to the charge that the Nimrods could not have operated so quickly out of Ascension Island unless there had been careful preparation for such an eventuality long before 31 March, which the House will remember is the date on which, as the Prime Minister told us from the Dispatch Box on 26 October, the Falkland Islands crisis came out of the blue. If I am wrong about Ascension—