HC Deb 30 November 1972 vol 847 cc606-8
11. Mr. Judd

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make an official visit to the men and ships of the Beira patrol.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I have no plans to do so.

Mr. Judd

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that many right hon. and hon. Members would wish to express their gratitude to the men of the Beira patrol for the way in which they are carrying out their difficult assignment? Can the hon. Gentleman say what approaches have been made to the new Government of Malagasy with a view to securing bases for air support in order to make the patrol more effective, and what approaches have been made to other Commonwealth Governments and allies for possible assistance in the patrol, again to make it more effective?

Mr. Gilmour

I am always grateful when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite express their gratitude to the Royal Navy, though I am always surprised that they confine their remarks to the Beira patrol—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It is a fair point. A party point was made and it is fair to make a party answer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] There have been many occasions on which the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy has had to answer questions on this point. The same point was always made.

Dealing with the second matter raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd), we have no plans to contact the Government of Malagasy. We believe that the patrol is fully effective now.

Mr. Evelyn King

As it is well known that petrol is freely available in Rhodesia at a price lower than that in Great Britain, is it not a fact that the Beira patrol is no more than a floating advertisement of British impotence? Would not it be much better to bring the patrol back to Portsmouth, where the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) could inspect it and thereby get to know something about it?

Mr. Gilmour

Whether or not the patrol should continue is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition benches are already dissatisfied by the fact that we can never ask questions of the Secretary of State for Defence and that, if objective questions are to be answered in a party political way, the dissatisfaction will grow?

Mr. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman's dissatisfaction is a matter for him. It was a slightly flippant answer to a flippant question. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is a question which comes up frequently and that it is asked for a specific reason. I answered in a similar vein.

Sir G. de Freitas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.