HL Deb 18 April 1973 vol 341 cc1117-8

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what cost has been and is being incurred by the Defence Department in shepherding "QE 2" to Israel and guarding her in Southampton before her voyage there, for the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the foundation of that State.


My Lords, among the security precautions being taken for the cruise of the "Queen Elizabeth 2" to and from Israel this month and next are some by the Ministry of Defence, the cost of which will be recovered from the Cunard Steam-Ship Company. I cannot discuss amounts, since this could indicate the nature of the measures being taken.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend very much, may I ask him, first, whether he is aware that there has been concern because we have appeared to be subsidising the holidays to the Middle East of richer members of the community? Secondly, is he aware that we may be appearing to play too great a part in the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, having regard to the present circumstances in that area?


My Lords, with regard to the first question of my noble friend, I hope that my Answer will have put his mind at rest. With regard to his second question, this ship is on the high seas and is entitled to go wherever she pleases, and I think it right, since she is flying the British flag, that she should do so.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the reply that he has just given. Will he be good enough to say whether it is in accordance with our practice that any British ship shall be entitled to sail where and when it wants for a legitimate purpose? Also, is not this ship, having been chartered in this way rendering a service not only to the State of Israel but also to the world as a whole?


My Lords, that is perfectly right. But perhaps I ought just to say that the responsibility for the security of a ship rests primarily with the owners of the ship concerned, and whether assistance might be provided by my Department in another case would, of course, depend upon the circumstances.


My Lords, the noble Lord has said that the expenses are recoverable. I take it that any sea support, or any air support by Nimrod aircraft—which would provide them with a good training flight—will not be charged back to the Cunard Company, because this seems to me to be the proper sort of defence which should be given in any circumstances to one of our ships going about its lawful duties.


My Lords, I do not want to go into what precautions have been taken, because I do not think that would be helpful, but all the expenses which it is proper should be charged to Cunard will be charged. Those members of the Ministry of Defence security forces on board the "Queen Elizabeth" will, I hope, have a very agreeable time.


My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to tell the House whether he was consulted when this trip was planned, and, if so, had he in mind the extent of the precautions that would have to be taken?


No, my Lords, we were not consulted, and I hope to goodness that the Ministry of Defence will not be consulted about all the cruises which are being undertaken.


My Lords, is this not a great compliment to the British Navy, and can we just leave it at that?