HC Deb 06 May 1970 vol 801 cc383-4
6. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total cost to date of the ships and aircraft engaged in the Beira patrol and those supporting them, including all pay, fuel and repairs, as well as trooping.

42. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a further statement on the effectiveness, and cost to date to public funds, of the Beira patrol, including the air component based in Malagasy.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Dr. David Owen)

To calculate all the total cost to date of the patrol would involve a disproportionate amount of effort. The average annual running cost of the ships and aircraft normally engaged on the patrol is about£2.75 million, but this would have been incurred wherever the forces concerned were employed. The total extra cost to date is about£1.75 million. The patrol has been most effective in denying any oil through Beira to Rhodesia, and the Umtali refinery is closed.

Mr. Wingfield-Digby

Is it not a fact that the Minister wishes to conceal the extent to which the resources of the Fleet are being squandered on this irrelevant exercise? Will he instead pay attention to the needs of the Merchant Navy, as recommended by the Rochdale Report out today, which has been neglected?

Dr. Owen

There is certainly no question of hiding the extra costs. These extra costs are important, and they have been given to the House on numerous occasions.

Mr. Henig

Is it not the case that these costs need not continue to be incurred if it were not for the fact that hon. Members opposite are encouraging the illegal Smith régime to continue its illegality by making suggestions that should the Conservatives ever return to power they will change this country's policy? Ought my hon. Friend not to draw it to the attention of Mr. Smith that the majority of opinion polls now suggest that it will be a very long time before the Conservatives return to power?

Dr. Owen

Any support by hon. Members opposite on this issue has been noticeable by its absence, but we have carried out to the full our obligations under the Security Council Resolution of 9th April, 1966.

Mr. Rippon

In assessing these costs, does the hon. Gentleman use the same method of slice costing as does the Secretary of State when assessing the cost of aircraft carriers in the area? If not, what is the cost on that basis?

Dr. Owen

As I have said, the extra cost of the patrol is less than£400,000 a year. It is not possible to provide a complete allocation of all the administrative and support costs to particular teeth units. It has never been the practice to do so, and it is not the practice at the moment.