HC Deb 13 November 1968 vol 773 c406
48. Mr. McMaster

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now initiate a review of the adequacy of Great Britain's naval strength to meet foreseeable defence contingencies.

Dr. David Owen

As reported in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy, 1968 (Command 3701; Ch. I, para. 4(d)), we are at present engaged in defining the character of our forces in the European area in the light of the Prime Minister's announcement on 16th January, 1968.

Mr. McMaster

What study are the Government making of the Russian build up of naval strength? Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that our naval strength is sufficient to meet a conventional attack from any quarter? If not, will he take steps immediately to rectify the situation?

Dr. Owen

The completion of our withdrawals from overseas will enable us to concentrate more effectively in the N.A.T.O. area. As to the possibility of further increases in our naval presence in the Mediterranean, I can only refer the hon. Member to the Answers given by the Secretary of State for Defence earlier today.

Mr. Maudling

The Question refers to "foreseeable defence contingencies". Do we take it from the Minister's answer that the Government have no concern over any threat to Britain's trade routes outside the European theatre?

Dr. Owen

We are concerned about any possible threat to Britain's sea routes outside the European theatre; and we have a capacity to defend those.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is my hon. Friend aware that the assumption behind all these questions is that the Mediterranean must always remain a private lake of the allied Powers? Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a very strong American bombing force in the eastern Mediterranean which is there to bomb the oilfields of Baku and that is the reason why the Russians are there?

Dr. Owen

I am aware that the N.A.T.O. flank is an important area for the defence of N.A.T.O. and of this country.