HC Deb 11 March 1980 vol 980 cc1142-3
16. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what contracts have been secured by the Hydrographer to the Royal Navy for offshore surveys in the Straits of Hormuz area, or other parts of the coastline of the Arabian Peninsula.

Mr. Speed

None recently.

Mr. Hooley

Does the Minister agree that that is probably the one uesful service that the Royal Navy could perform in that area? Will he give an assurance that public expenditure cuts will not diminish the capability of the Hydrographer to carry out his important work both around these islands and elsewhere.

Mr. Speed

The Hydrographer is fully occupied on national tasks, as the hon. Gentleman knows. No tenders have been sought from that area. However, the Royal Navy carried out a survey of the Straits of Hormuz in 1976.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

While we are considering the Straits of Hormuz—a sensitive part of the world—will my hon. Friend tell us whether we have sufficient submarines to monitor the Soviet presence in that area? If we do not, will my hon. Friend allocate more funds for building further submarines and anti-submarine craft?

Mr. Speed

The prime object of our submarine force is not to monitor Soviet surface vessels in the Indian Ocean. As my hon. Friend knows, we are ordering more submarines. We are part of an alliance, and as my hon. Friend will know, there are significant United States naval forces in that area. We are playing our part in the Mediterranean so that the United States naval forces can use that area.

Mr. Duffy

The Minister referred to "national tasks". Will he tell us what percentage of the shallow waters around this island have been subject to modern surveys? What progress is being made by his Department on the study of funding civil hydrography?

Mr. Speed

I should have liked notice of the first question. The number of surveys undertaken is never enough. However, major efforts are being made. With regard to the second question, I hope that we shall soon be able to give a definitive answer to a subject that occupied the previous Labour Government, as it has us. As I indicated in response to a question on 31 January, such inter-departmental considerations are under urgent review. I think that we shall reach a conclusion in the near future. I certainly hope so.

Mr. Costain

Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) cannot appreciate the good will that missions of this kind generate in the Persian Gulf? Will he ensure that they continue?

Mr. Speed

Certainly, task groups from this country have gone to the Indian Ocean regularly in recent years. We intend that these missions should continue in a major way.