In the last financial year, the additional cost to the defence budget of establishing and maintaining the Falklands garrison is estimated to have been £397 million. The planned provision for 1986-87 amounts to £234 million and that for 1987–88 is £140 million. Force levels in the Falklands, now and in the future, reflect the continuing need for a military presence sufficient to deter aggression and to defend the islands against attack.
I accept in particular the second point to which my right hon. Friend drew attention, but does he agree that the recent development of the air strip, with its attendant possibility of reinforcing the garrison from the United Kingdom rather more quickly than was the case before, might lead to the possibility of our having to maintain a smaller garrison? Does he have any thoughts on whether that is likely in the near future, and if so, can he tell us whether there is the possibility of a reduction in costs?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We have always said that giving ourselves a very much greater ability to reinforce the Falkland Islands quickly enabled us to take a more flexible view of the garrison levels. We do not, for reasons which I am sure he and the rest of the House will understand, go into details about the garrison levels, but my hon. Friend will agree that the figures that I mentioned in my answer to him make it clear that we will achieve the discharge of our defence responsibilities to the Falklands during the next few years at significantly less cost than hitherto.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Falkland Islands provide some very good training opportunities. I am sure that he and the rest of the House will welcome the fact that the additional financial cost of the Falklands will halve over the next three years.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The construction of the airfield has been a very cost-effective use of taxpayers' money for defence purposes.