HC Deb 21 February 1978 vol 944 cc1188-90
2. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he remains satisfied with the contribution of the new Island class of patrol vessel to fishery protection of offshore defence.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. A. E. P. Duffy)

Yes, Sir. I am very satisfied with the new Island class vessels. Four are now operational and a fifth will conduct its first patrol in April. Their sea-keeping qualities and endurance make them well suited for their offshore protection role.

Mr. Wainwright

In spite of what my hon. Friend has said, is he really quite satisfied that these vessels are playing a useful part in protecting our fishery grounds? Is it not true that they continue at a speed of 16 or 17 knots in a force eight gale when a small fishing vessel's maximum speed is only about six knots? Also, will my hon. Friend say something about the relationship between the Island class vessels and the Nimrod aircraft?

Mr. Duffy

Our experience is that the measures we have taken have proved adequate so far. If they are not adequate, we shall review the position. Equally, our experience confirms that these new ships and the Nimrod are complementary elements in our offshore force. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that the recent decision to order two extra Island class vessels is eloquent testimony to our confidence in them.

Mr. Banks

Is the Minister satisfied that all the defects in this class of vessel have been eradicated, and is he satisfied that there are a sufficient number of vessels for the task of fishery protection? Would he not prefer to build more Royal Navy ships than to subsidise the building of Polish ships?

Mr. Duffy

I cannot follow the hon. Member on the last point. On his first point, there have been a few operational defects in the Island class vessels resulting in patrol time being lost. These difficulties have since been resolved. On the question of the contribution of the Island class vessels, the fifth, HMS "Lindisfarne", will enter service in April. Hon. Members should remember that the concept, design, construction and putting into service of these vessels has all taken place since 1974. The whole House will agree that this is a remarkable tribute to the Royal Navy, and it shows the way in which we can react quickly to demands of this kind.

Mr. Welsh

Will the Minister state his plans for the introduction of helicopters on ships specially designed for protection and defence work in the North Sea?

Mr. Duffy

Island class vessels are not designed to carry helicopters although they can receive men and stores delivered by helicopter. If there is a need for a patrol vessel to carry helicopters, this will be done. We are constantly examining the adequacy of our measures, and we are looking very closely at the next generation of patrol vessels.

Mr. James Johnson

Will my hon. Friend say what is the precise function of the two new extra vessels and what they will do? In this context, since we need more than two, will he turn his mind to the value of airships, never mind helicopters?

Mr. Duffy

The two extra Island class vessels have been ordered to assist the Ton class MCMVs of Coastal Division and also to engage in purely naval tasks.

On the last point mentioned by my hon. Friend, he knows that I have invited him and some of his colleagues to come into the Navy Department to discuss the matter of airships with those who are best fitted to do so—namely, the officials.