HC Deb 27 July 1982 vol 28 cc913-4
8. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions his Department has had about new methods of maritime patrol for fishing protection; and whether these discussions included plans to purchase or use Coastguard 748s.

Mr. Pattie

The resources employed on offshore patrolling, including fishery protection, are kept under continuing review in consultation with other interested Departments. My Department has no plans to procure aircraft for the task additional to those already committed to it.

Mr. Bennett

Will the Minister accept that the 748 in its coastguard version is an excellent aircraft, that many foreign Governments are interested in purchasing it and that if the British Government were to give a lead that would set the seal of approval on the aircraft? Is it not ironic that the Government seem to be enthusiastic about encouraging other countries to buy weapons of destruction, but give little support to aircraft such as the 748, which has a purely defensive role?

Mr. Pattie

The aircraft in question has been extremely succesful. More than 300 have been sold around the world. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is carrying out an evaluation of the aircraft in the role that he has described. The hon. Gentleman should address his question to that Ministry to see whether it is interested in acquiring the aircraft.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is expensive to use the Nimrod maritime aircraft for fishery protection and surveillance work? Is he aware that the experience of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force shows that the operating costs of a smaller twin-engined aircraft make it a viable proposition? Does he agree that it can also be operated by auxiliary and reserve personnel?

Mr. Pattie

As the bill for this sort of operation is being paid by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that is precisely the kind of consideration that it will no doubt bear in mind.

Mr. McNally

Is this not a case where Government procurement can lead the way? As the Minister says, the aircraft has proved to be versatile and the technicians at Woodford have found another task for it to perform. If, however, it is to achieve the necessary sales, the Government will have to give a lead through their procurement policy.

Mr. Pattie

I am familiar with that argument. It contains much force. The Government include the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which is responsible for carrying out the maritime surveillance role.