HC Deb 11 March 1971 vol 813 cc560-1
11. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of State for Defence what information he has received as to the maximum total numbers and types of warships of the Soviet Navy which have been present in the Indian Ocean at any one time during the last six months.

Mr. Kirk

Apart from a short period during January while the Soviet Navy relief squadron took over from ships returning home, the maximum Soviet Navy presence reported was six vessels —three surface warships, one attack submarine and two support ships.

In addition to one merchant tanker supporting the naval ships, there were three hydrographic survey ships and six space-event support ships.

Mr. Cronin

Having regard to the large number of warships of the United States and other N.A.T.O. countries which habitually cruise the oceans, is not the military threat posed by this very small number of ships derisory, and is not the Government's attempt to adopt an alarmist attitude equally derisory?

Mr. Kirk

There is a clear potential threat, though it is rather more a political than a defence one. [Interruption.] That was precisely what I said in Singapore, and we have to provide for it.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Is not there a surprisingly large Soviet fleet concentrated in the Black Sea which would be able easily to reach the Indian Ocean once the Suez Canal were opened?

Mr. Kirk

That is true, but the Canal is closed at the moment.

Mr. Wellbeloved

What consultations have Her Majesty's Government had with the United States Government on the so-called Soviet threat in the Indian Ocean, and what reply have they received?

Mr. Kirk

The hon. Gentleman will know that exchanges of that kind between Governments are confidential.

Mr. Marten

Did not the Soviet threat in the Mediterranean start in the same very small way as it now appears to be doing in the Indian Ocean?

Mr. Kirk

Precisely. That is what I meant by a potential threat.