HL Deb 17 December 1975 vol 366 cc1489-536

5.14 p.m.

Lord SHACKLETON rose to draw attention to the report published by the Hydrographic Study Group and to take note of the importance of the work of the Hydrographic Department, in relation to the economic needs both of the United Kingdom and of developing countries; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is a certain similarity about debates we had three or four years ago in which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and I took part. The noble Earl was President of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society; I was President of the Royal Geographical Society, and we are now immediate Past Presidents. At the time we were debating the future of the Ordnance Survey. This House did a very effective job in saving the 1/25,000 map, tertiary levelling, and in teaching the Government of the day—as we hope to teach the Government of this day—some of the detailed important matters which generally are rather outside the field of experience both of Ministers and of officials.

This debate must end at 7.45 p.m., and therefore, we want to make sure that the Minister has at least 20 minutes in which to explain whether the Government have a policy. We have two maiden speakers who will take part in this debate. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who has a further debate later on sea use, so there will be further opportunities to return to this subject.

My Lords, I will not waste time in pleasantries. I should like to come straight to the question of the Naval Hydrographic Service. Those of your Lordships who have followed scientific matters, or who have been connected with the Royal Navy, will know that the Royal Navy has had a very proud tradition in the scientific field. There are familiar names, such as Captain Cook, the "Terror" and the "Erebus" in the Antarctic, the many scientific expenditions, and HMS "Beagle". Noble Lords may be interested to know that some of the Naval charts are still based on surveys made by those historic ships. It is not yet appreciated how much of the seas of the world are as yet unsurveyed. Only 24 per cent. of our own Continental Shelf has been the subject of a proper hydrographic survey.

Over many years I happen to have had friendly relationships with the Naval Hydrographer. When I was Air Force Minister I had to intervene in the White Paper of the day to ensure there was a proper account of the work of the Hydrographic Service. The Naval Hydrographer traditionally has given us very good reports. I would draw attention to some remarks in both the 1972 and the 1973 Reports. In the 1972 Report the Naval Hydrographer said: Our task has not diminished; quite the contrary. Vast tracks of the world's seas remain unsurveyed and ill-charted. In 1973 the Naval Hydrographer said: We need not only to explore the sea and the seabed, but to portray the detailed information so gained on special charts. It is an immense task, and progress is painfully slow. To meet the need an expansion is called for. The Hydrographer has a national function quite beyond the national concept of defence. Many of our charts are obsolete. Approaches to some of our developing ports are virtually uncharted. Our resources in ships and manpower are insufficient. My Lords, it is at this moment that Her Majesty's Government, in furtherance of a Defence Review, having assessed their defence needs—and I do not propose to debate with the Government on defence policy, although I could, perhaps, on another occasion—have chosen to make proposals for cutting down rather than increasing the size of our hydrographic resources. Those of us who have been concerned about this are well aware that so much of the work of the hydrographer is not in support of defence, but is in support of industry, of commerce, of shipping, of science, and many other subjects. Therefore, it should be funded accordingly. Any suggestion that I would make, however, would not imply in any way that it would be anyone other than the Naval Hydrographer who should continue to co-ordinate and carry out this duty.

There is unanimous recognition among those who have been concerned in this matter that the Naval Hydrographer provides an outstanding service and, indeed, it is one of those services in which the British will remain pre-eminent, in which it is possible for us to do something not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world at a relatively small cost.

I would mention one or two of the points which are brought out so very clearly in this admirable Report which we are debating. I do commend any noble Lord who has not read the Report of the Hydrographic Study Group to get a copy, except that I suspect that we may already have run out of copies, in which case I shall be happy to lend mine. There are a number of points, which I will mention very quickly, which need to be taken into account which would suggest very clearly the need for an increased effort in hydrography.

Let me say straight away that I have the greatest sympathy for the Government who are continually asked to reduce public expenditure but everybody comes along with his pet subject and asks them to increase it. But this is something which is of the very greatest importance economically to this country and is a direct contribution to our economic survival. I would draw attention in particular to the growing size and draught of ships. When one considers that soon, if not already, there will be ships with draught of up to 90 feet, and when one also notices the fact that only a few months ago HMS "Fox" found a pinnacle only 24 feet below the surface of the sea on the route just outside Holy-head, and there are many such hazards around the world, one will appreciate the dangers. One has only to look at the Appendix in the Report of the Hydrographer to see the number of ships lost over the last few years by striking uncharted rocks or reefs, and the cost has been very heavy. Perhaps some other noble Lords may wish to give some details about that.

The fact is that there will be reduced under keel clearances, there will be new trade routes, new ports, new cruising patterns. There are increased recreational users, and there is the whole question of the exploitation of the seabed, with which I am sure my noble friend, Lord Ritchie-Calder, is so familiar. In particular there is growing scientific need for continuance of the present allocation of about nine ship months per year, as is referred to in the Hydrographic Study Group's Report.

The situation is extremely urgent. Two ocean survey ships are liable to be paid off within the next three months. Indeed, their crews want to know what their future is. Therefore, this debate is particularly timely, for I hope we are going to receive from the Government some assurance which suggests that at least the existing fleet will be maintained while they make their minds up, reasonably enough, to have further consultations. They have had quite a lot of time already, but we know that Governments have many things to do which sometimes do not always yield such economic value. It is very urgent because two ocean survey ships may be paid off by 1st April 1976, and what an appropriate date, if they are paid off on that day—which is less than three and a half months ahead. As I pointed out, the Hydrographic Survey Group Report recommends an increase. Even if an order is placed in mid-1975, a new coastal survey vessel, for instance, could not be built before the end of 1978, and the same problem exists with regard to the inshore survey craft.

I should like very briefly to touch again on particular aspects. I received a letter quite recently from McAlpines, who are concerned in building rigs, and in this letter it was pointed out that there is this great need for adequate survey of the tow-out routes from the Clyde or the Scottish West Coast. The Hydrographer has already produced very good survey data from Loch Raasay to the 100 fathom line, but the route in from the 100 fathom line further North is not fully surveyed. Elf's gas treatment platform is due to be towed from the Clyde to the Frigg field, most southerly of the fields, in May 1976. One cannot stress too much the urgency of this matter. I am gratified to say that I received a letter from my noble friend Lord Balogh—I have been writing busily to Ministers, as no doubt have others. I very much appreciate it when he says—and it is the first news I have had: We have worked on the Report and its recommendations. The Treasury have last week approved our request for funds for the tow-out routes exercise, with which you are mainly concerned. The word "exercise" seems a strange one. We have yet to reach a decision on another issue, that of seismic exploration surveys. Then there are a number of other interesting points. What I would ask my noble friend Lord Winterbottorn is how much money they have provided, and will it be possible to ensure that none of the ships are paid off pending further consideration? Other noble Lords—the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and others—will no doubt wish to develop this point.

May I now turn to the scientific side. It may be that I ought to have mentioned it in my Motion but I put it down in a great hurry because of the urgency of the matter. I do not think people appreciate just how important is the work of the Hydrographer to scientific research. I have a letter here from the President of the Royal Geographical Society expressing grave concern. The Royal Geographical Society has always been deeply interested in this whole area, and indeed traditionally the Hydrographer is a member of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society. But let me hasten to add that he was not at the meeting of the Council where we took this decision. In particular, the President has drawn attention to the very important scientific work. I have, too, a letter from Sir Peter Kent, on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council. That brings in another Ministry—I never remember which Ministry they belong to; Environment, I presume. Is the Department of the Environment prepared to make a contribution to the funding?

There has always been a close relationship between scientists and the Hydrographer's Department, and the NERC is particularly concerned with the proposal to charter one of the hydrographic ships for a geophysical survey on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf using Natural Environment Research Council staff. There would be a programme of three to five years. There are a whole number of others, such as the very important GATE, Global Atmospheric Research Exercise, Atlantic/Tropical. Again, here is where the British Hydrographer and the Naval Hydrographers make their greatest contribution to the scientific world.

If I may touch on one point particularly close to home so far as I am concerned, it is the future of HMS "Endurance". Since, some noble Lords will be aware, I am going to the Falkland Islands, there could hardly be a more unfortunate moment, from my point of view, for it to be known that HMS "Endurance" is likely to be de-commissioned. Here I would draw attention, as an example, to some of the work of HMS "Endurance", which is not a regular survey ship but has a number of other duties, not only the movement of scientists in the Antarctic in areas normally accessible by helicopters, but very important hydrographic, geophysical and geological surveys. For instance, in 1975–76 they hope to have about 20 or 30 days of high priority work in South Georgia in a number of areas—biological, vegetation, mapping, and so on. This is a direct contribution to the scientific effort.

I do not think I need say more, because it must be apparent to all your Lordships that the scientific value of the work of the hydrographer is very great, but I should like to turn to the question of the developing world. I have here a letter from my dear friend Mr. Reg Prentice, saying, in effect, that we have had no requests for this sort of help, we have other important priorities such as land survey, which they do quite admirably, and his officials could not foresee any requirement large enough to justify any special provision for this purpose in the resources available to the hydrographer. It is precisely in this area that the Government are so ignorant.

I have also a letter from the President of the Directing Committee of the International Hydrographic Bureau which, as your Lordships will know, is in Monaco. The fact that he is an ex-hydrographer, let me hasten to say, does not affect his attitude. There are, as he points out, five, or some people think six, major hydrographic countries in the world. There are often no maritime authorities beyond port operators in a large number of countries. It is essential, with the development of the seabed in so many areas, that we should be able to provide a service. May I give an example. The Canadians, who are one of the six, are providing some training, but we cannot expect new countries to develop a service. The fact that there has been no request, which has at any rate penetrated the Ministry of Overseas Development, does not prove that there is no need for this. The point is that for over a century various colonies and protectorates have naturally (and as a former surveyor, I would support them), strong lobbies for land maps in connection with the cadastral system of defining land ownership and land usage generally, but there is virtually no, or very little, expertise in the marine field. With the increase in the size of ships and in the importance of trade to them, it is essential that we should provide support in this area.

I would make a very strong plea to the Government that they will now examine, instead of resisting, as the Ministry of Overseas Development have, matters which are apparent to all those who are expert in this field. There are traditional areas—not only the Falkland Islands, the Solomons, the New Hebrides, Fiji, Tanzania—but others where they have provided this service, and done it outstandingly well and with great credit to the British reputation in those areas. There is little enough presence and influence on the part of the British in many parts of the world, certainly in military terms, but this is a valuable contribution.

May I finish on one point, which other noble Lords will develop: it is the enormous importance of this to one of our most valuable industries, the shipping industry. It goes without saying that we shall need to increase our effort, that it is a valuable investment; and what I am asking the Government to announce, if not today as soon as possible, is that they will provide at least the equivalent of £1,500,000 over the next two to three years to maintain the existing fleet, and thereafter to take wide consultations with a view to increasing the effort. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has performed an invaluable service by initiating a debate on a problem which, quite clearly, is not going to go away but, if anything, will get more difficult as time passes. I do not believe that the Hydrographic Survey could conceivably have found a more passionate advocate for their cause. First, we should say that we should commend the Minister for having set up this study group to produce this invaluable Report although, as the noble Lord said, the fact that the Report concludes by suggesting that we should spend more money I suppose means that the Minister has, to some extent, created a rod for his own back.

The Report surveys the prospects and sets out the problems extraordinarily clearly, and it brings forward a number of sensible recommendations, most of which unfortunately are going to cost money. Over the last 180 years, the Royal Naval Hydrographic Service has established a reputation properly described as the leading charting agency in the world. I suppose that this came about as one of the beneficial side effects from what we now call the "good old days "of the Pax Britannica, or when Britannia ruled the waves. In those balmy days we had a generous naval budget from which it was quite easy to subsidise the survey work, then an even smaller proportion of the total budget than it would be today. However, it is not much use indulging in nostalgia when we are faced with the kind of position in which we are now. Realism demands that we should recognise that we are now no longer a rich first-class world power controlling a vast, far-flung empire. We are a middle power, not without influence. We have a serious balance of payments problem, and we are faced with a need to economise.

Obviously, in such straitened circumstances, every penny must be made to count. This is particularly true in defence, which regrettably this Government appear to regard as the first whipping boy or milch cow whenever they are looking for some economies. We do not want to labour this or try to make a Party difference out of that; but that is to face the fact, because it is also true, I think, that the savage defence cuts have tended to exacerbate and concentrate our minds on what is an endemic problem facing the Hydrographic Service.

The plain fact is that at a time when we are looking for ways of cutting back on defence spending, the demands on the Hydrographic Service are expanding, as the noble Lord has made so clear this evening. The Report enumerates clearly the additional tasks, and lists the extra resources which will be required if these are to be discharged. I should imagine that we can take it as axiomatic that it is not possible to increase the capacity of the Hydrographic Service to discharge these extra duties simply by increasing efficiency, because nobody has ever suggested that the Hydrographic Service is not an extremely efficiently run organisation. But in that connection, I should like to ask the Minister whether we have a yardstick for measuring the effectiveness, the output. Do we, for example, know the man hours per chart, or whatever figure we use, and how do the costs of the Hydrographic Service compare with other organisations? I suspect that we would come out favourably in any such comparison, if it were possible to make one.

I wish to single out two particularly sensible suggestions made in the Report. The first is the setting up of a separate hydrographic Vote so that the Service can be put beyond the damage which results from depredations to the defence budget; I understand that the defence interests in the Hydrographic Service account for about 45 per cent. of its work. I also support the suggestions made in the Report underlining comments made by the Select Committee on Science and Technology in that the customer-contractor relationship should be the guiding policy behind a future Hydrographic Service. This was referred to in the debate in another place on 29th January. This concept would make possible contributions from the other Departments, such as the Department of Energy, which increasingly have an interest in the activities of the Hydrographic Service.

To digress, yesterday I was talking to one of the MacAlpine people; it is true that they are expecting to launch their platform in May and they do not yet know whether they can get out between Campbeltown and Northern Ireland, or whether they will have to take it the whole way round Ireland; and if one is towing 600,000 tons of concrete, it makes quite a difference. Obviously, the Department of Trade and Industry would have an interest in supporting the Hydrographic Service.

I take slight heart from a comment made by Mr. Judd during the debate in another place on 29th January when he said that the marriage between the civil and military requirements might have been a marriage of convenience but that such arrangements were not always unhappy, that the Ministry of Defence was not seeking grounds for divorce, although it was looking at the terms of the marriage settlement. At least it seems that he has an open mind on the possibilities. However, it is equally clear that juggling with Votes and where the money is coming from will not necessarily provide any more money. It is, of course, tempting to deploy at this point the argument that it is only another £3¼ million a year that is needed; however, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, it is easy for us to plead for our pet causes, but we must be careful not to show a degree of irresponsibility in suggesting ways of spending money we do not have. Before we do that, we should address our minds to the possible alternatives, recognising that we are faced with a very stark choice here, between either increasing the income of the Hydrographic Department or its having to reduce its commitments, which, to say the least, as the noble Lord pointed out, would be regrettable.

The noble Lord also referred to the Pacific and Asian responsibilities. I find myself in great difficulty here. I wonder whether a country in our economic situation is really in a position to play Lady Bountiful. Are we justified, by our shipping activities in the Pacific, for example, in financing such work? Certainly let us provide the service, which we are obviously uniquely well-equipped to do; but could we not look for a greater contribution from the countries concerned which are bound to be the principal benefactors from work of this sort? The argument that we get information from them in return for the work we do leads me to think that we must be giving them more service and information than we are getting from them, and that regrettably we may have to be a little less generous than we have been in the past.

The customer-contractor relationship means that we will have to be more commercial in our outlook; and again we have the analogy of the Ordnance Survey problem to which the noble Lord referred. One cannot escape wondering whether our charts, and our pilot books in particular, are too cheap. When one sets out to buy charts, which used to be 5s. but which are now £2, and one needs quite a number of them, it seems a lot of money, but the pilot books, which I understand are now £2.70, really do look too cheap for a learned volume of this kind. I understand that the revenue from these sales is of the order of £3 million, and it just so happens that if we doubled that revenue we would more or less have solved the problem.

How do we fix the prices of these publications? Have we attempted to estimate the possible increase in income which we could get from sales? Presumably we have thought about going into some sort of commercial partnership with organisations which are wholly commercially orientated, with a view to increasing the income we might achieve. I think I am right in saying that in the home waters we reckon already to recover the costs we are incurring, and I am not terribly impressed with the argument that if we priced the charts differently this would discourage masters of ships from carrying adequate charts. I cannot seriously believe that we can advance this argument; and in any event, if we do advance it, it is not a problem for the Hydrographic Survey. In passing, I understand that for ships in their area the Canadians insist on the carrying of adequate charts in home waters. If that is a problem, this seems to be an essentially reasonable approach bearing in mind the enormous inconvenience, cost and damage which can be incurred by public services when there is an accident.

When considering charts for abroad, one is again tempted to think that perhaps international agencies might reasonably be asked to make a greater contribution to the work of our Hydrographic Department. I believe that they already make a considerable contribution for land survey work abroad and one is immediately tempted to say: let the shipping interests make a greater contribution. But obviously we do not want to put our shipping interests at a disadvantage compared with the other international shipping interests. However, it is clear that we and our shipping interests should be making our proper contribution, perhaps through an international agency. I am delighted that for the first time we shall be hearing today from the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, and I have no doubt that he will have something to say about matters of this kind.

At the end of the day, I accept that we may have to look for more Government funding if we are really satisfied that other means of financing have been exhausted. In justification of this I ask the noble Lord, who was once also responsible for the Meteorological Office, as I was for a short time, whether, as I think this is borne on the RAF Vote, this does not provide a national and indeed an international service which is currently carried through the Defence Vote. Indeed, I notice that we have three former RAF Ministers in the House tonight.


My Lords, when I first became an Air Force Minister it was made clear to me by my Permanent Secretary that I was not to touch it and that the RAF was civilised enough to keep it apart and increase its support; and my worry is that the next target will be the Meteorological Office.


I do not know whether I have done damage to the Meteorological Office by introducing it into the debate or have helped to protect the Hydrographic Service by analogy with the Met. Office. At any rate I believe that it is a fair comparison to make. We are talking about a business with an unrivalled reputation and one which produces a first-class product which is in international demand. Whatever happens, we must keep it in the forefront, where it now is. We are still a maritime nation. A modest expenditure of this kind is wholly justified by the income which we receive from invisible earnings of our shipping and other interests abroad. That is more than ever emphasised by what is happening in connection with exploiting the North Sea. I have no doubt that we shall hear more from other noble Lords about that.

May I end by agreeing once again with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. We must remember that there is a lead time of something like 2½ years for building ships and training personnel. It is vital that we should have a very early decision and, even if the Government do not feel that they can commit themselves to all the extra expenditure suggested in the Report, I very much hope that they will regard as a minimum sufficient expenditure for us to keep our options open so that when, as I hope, we come into better times we shall be in a position to expand the Service to carry out all the jobs which it is so manifestly well fitted to do.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, there is in my name a Motion for which as yet no day has been named to call attention to the need for sea use planning. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has already referred to it and I am encouraged to believe that it will attract an important list of speakers, because so many are speaking in this short debate on something which is, though admittedly a prerequisite, still a part of this question. Among those 14 speakers the debate has attracted the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, who is very influential in shipping circles. It has brought him out for the first time in 36 years' membership of your Lordships' House. That, in itself, is an indication of how important this problem is.

The hydrographer's work is itself a sine qua non of any sea use planning framework. I was astounded to learn that our own continental shelf is still only charted to the extent of 24 per cent. I could hardly believe that when I first saw it in a Report and, indeed, until I also saw it in the newspapers, I could hardly believe that it was possible for it not to be known whether a great oil rig could be transported in the way its owners wanted it to be. To me, this is a most astonishing state of affairs. There are, of course, other points in connection with taking items along the sea itself. It is a question of the physical impact of the platforms on the sea bed. There is the impact on the sea bed itself of the removal of sand and gravel. This causes erosion and bed movement and means that unless charts are kept up to date all the time they will cease to have any use at all. Waste disposal and pollution also affect the seabed, and there are other important sociological or, at any rate, political problems in connection with the relative importance in any given context of conflicts over oil or fishing.

It is the increasing gap between the need for defence spending on hydrography and the commercial and civil spending that has brought to light the very awkward position of the hydrographer. I believe that a great deal more attention should be paid to the fact that this is a commercial as much as a defence venture. Some of the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, about whether all the other means of funding this have been exhausted need to be carefully looked at. I believe that an operation of this kind should be able to finance itself, and more than finance itself. It seems to me astonishing that we have not been able to devise a means of doing this before. I feel that it is so important that I am not sure that we do not need a Minister for dealing with the whole business of sea use planning more than almost anything else. The question of sea use planning will become more and more important and will require more and more thought and more and more money spent on it. Maritime activity is steadily growing. The mineral and food resources of the sea are becoming of ever greater significance; in addition, there are remote problems such as the question of wave energy. A certain amount of money has already been found for the Heriot-Watt College to look into the question. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, will touch upon this.

It seems tome that rational planning of sea use is something that cannot begin to be done without the basis of effective hydrographic work. I hope I shall be talking when I manage to get a date for a debate, possibly early in the New Year, on the subject of sea use planning. I hope this debate will make it quite clear that one cannot have any kind of planning without previous hydrographic work.

There are 14 speakers in this debate and we have already used up three quarters of an hour. That being so, and because I have made the only point I wish to make—that is, that sea use planning depends on the work of the hydrographer and that, if we cut the work of the Hydrography Department short, sea use planning will not "be on" anyway—I shall conclude.

5.58 p.m.

The Earl of INCHCAPE

My Lords, I rise in the hope and confidence that your Lordships will show your usual consideration and tolerance to those who speak for the first time in this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has pointed out, I have been a Member of the House for very many years but have not so far addressed your Lordships. I feel that warrants some explanation. Since the War, I have had a greater connection with and knowledge of these Eastern and African countries where I have trading interests than with the United Kingdom industrial and commercial scene. However, this has recently changed and I am now more directly concerned with British industry, and particularly with the shipping industry. During past years I have felt it best to stick to my last and to leave politics and speech-making to those who specialise in such affairs; but now I am belatedly joining the many other noble Lords with full-time business commitments to contribute to your Lordships' debate. I intervened in this debate on Lord Shackleton's Motion on hydrography because of its importance to the shipping industry. Before I proceed, I must declare my interest. I am chairman of a large shipping company and the current Vice-President of the General Council of British Shipping, which speaks for the entire British shipping industry in all its corporate work.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for introducing his Motion, for the subject is of the greatest importance to the maritime industry, not just of this country but of the whole world. For almost two centuries the Hydrographic Department has provided an unrivalled service "for all who pass on the seas on their lawful occasions". The British Admiralty Chart series, with its efficient complementary arrangements for keeping these up-to-date, is used by ships of many maritime nations. While certain other countries provide a worldwide charting service, there is no doubt that the British system is pre-eminent, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said. In practice, except to a very limited degree, a ship can use only the charts provided under one national system, as opposed to using a mixture of national systems.

A modest start has recently been made by the International Hydrographic Bureau to produce an international series of charts, but this development could take effect on a sufficiently widespread basis only in the very long term. The hydrographer of the Navy has de facto always been the National Hydrographer, meeting alike the requirements of the Royal Navy and of the Merchant Navy. I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the British shipping industry, to express our appreciation to the hydrographer for the very ready manner in which he and his staff have always done their utmost to meet our needs.

As other noble Lords have said, the central issue is that the, hydrographic task, especially taking into account offshore developments, is expanding, while the funds of the Ministry of Defence from which this task has been for many years, and still is, financed, have contracted. But this is happening at the very time when the provision of accurate hydrographic survey data is becoming of crucial importance to the safe navigation of deep-draughted vessels in which a large volume of seaborne trade is now being carried.

The report of the Hydrographic Study Group provides a most thorough analysis of the problem; in particular it spells out the difference in the size of a survey fleet required solely for defence purposes, and the expansion needed to meet all the priority tasks, including those for civilian purposes, together with the additional shore staff needed to carry out the increased cartographic tasks that the latter would involve. The additional costs to meet the expanded programme have been estimated as £48½ million at 1974 prices, spread over seven years; that is to say, some £7 million a year. The Report indicates that the Department of Energy should be able to make some contribution in the future. During the course of the study, ship-owners, both British and international, indicated their willingness to accept increases of 100 per cent. in chart prices and other hydrographic publications. The Report estimates that those contributions could bring the total additional expenditure down to about £30 million or, say, £4 million a year.

My Lords, it seems clear that if the Hydrographic Service were to be reduced to a level solely based on that needed for our defence requirements, there would be a serious technological gap which cannot, for the foreseeable future, be filled in any other way. The consequences for safety and pollution will be apparent, and these could be most serious. Therefore, I submit that somehow or other funds must be provided for the expanded programme. As many noble Lords have said, during the present recession, no one can advocate increased Government expenditure with complacency. However, this matter must be kept in perspective and viewed against the extent to which this country—and most others—is dependent upon seaborne trade both for carrying its imports and its exports in ships of all flags, and also for the huge contribution which the British merchant fleet makes to the country's balance of payments: more than £1,000 million in net export earnings and import savings last year. This is quite apart from the interests of the offshore industry, with all that that means for the future of the country, in obtaining adequate and reliable hydrographic data.

All in all, the need for the expanded range of hydrographic work advocated in the Report is immense, but the cost is relatively insignificant. Our hydrographic service is second to none. To maintain it and to expand it to meet modern needs would, in my judgment, be a sound and wise investment. Therefore I urge the Government to find, from some vote or another, the small amount needed to bridge the remaining financial gap. The Government will get good value for that money—far better than from much other public sector expenditure. But if even this is not thought possible, I urge the Government to suggest other ways in which it might be found. The one thing not to do is to let the Hydrographic Service wither; of that I am sure.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, by a curious coincidence, before I knew that the noble Earl who has just sat down was to speak in this debate, I thought of starting my speech by quoting the ballad of Ralph the Rover, and comparing the reduction of the hydrographic service to that pirate who removed the bell from the Inchcape Rock and who was wrecked next time round. We have just heard the Inchcape Bell sound off again, after some years of silence, with a proper warning which I hope the Government and everyone else will heed. I hope that we hear it give tongue many times in your Lordships' House. I very much congratulate the noble Earl on his speech, which I appreciate.

I am grateful, as we all are, to my noble friend Lord Shackleton for initiating this debate and for bringing our attention to the Hydrographic Study Group and its forthright Report, which we might have overlooked had it not been emphatically brought to our attention. I hope that our intervention here today may avert a mistake—a very serious, almost irreversible mistake—which would affect not only this country's interests, but the world at large. It would be a betrayal of this nation's interests and of its reponsibilities to contract a crucial service at a time when, quite clearly, by all that I know and by all that your Lordships fully appreciate, we ought to be expanding it.

My friend Professor Roger Revelle, the United States oceanographer has pointed out that only 2 per cent. of ocean space and of the sea bottom has been adequately charted and surveyed. It has also to be recognised that the ocean bottom is not static. There are shifting shoals which make navigational charts out of date, and upheavals, including the upthrust of volcanic islands, which change configurations. As has been pointed out, there is quite a lot of man-made interference with the ocean beds, and this, too, has its effects. Even—indeed particularly —in coastal waters continuous charting is essential. I use the word "even" because it seems self-evident that we ought to be doing it. Each new development (conpicuously North Sea oil) imposes new requirements. In our Northern waters, where, with the naval bases at Rosyth and Scapa Flow, we used to deploy the Grand Fleet, the navigational requirements, even of these great battleships, is something different from those of the 250,000 tons, 500,000 tons, or even the threatened 1 million tons supertankers; and different from pipe-laying, where expensive difficulties have been encountered because of the nature of the sea bottom and the need for meticulous charting. I should also point out that people have died when going down to check rocks which have not been shown on charts.

The oceans have now become not only the highways of multiplying sea transports, with the intimidating risks to the superships—a 500,000 ton oil tanker has a 94 ft. draught—but, in terms of the sea bottom, they are also a highly desirable piece of real estate. Your Lordships know all about the oil of the Continental Shelf, but I would remind you, as I invariably do, about the metallic nodules on the deep ocean floor, containing the economic minerals: copper, cobalt, nickel, iron manganese, and many others, which, when they are exploited, will be in direct competition with the minerals mined from the rocks on land. This will lead—and it will not be far off—to ocean developments; and here I want to support the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in his concern about what is a critical point. If we do not establish some effective ocean regime of management, it will lead to total anarchy.

We have the prospect of man-made islands far bigger than the North Sea oil platforms, where the nodules will be refined at sea, with all kinds of ecological consequences from the treatment of these ores. Like the oil rigs, these will bring new hazhards to shipping and to the ocean eco-system. Incidentally, I would remind your Lordships that a hundred years ago HMS "Challenger" was on its historic three and a half year cruise—a combined operation of the Admiralty and the Royal Society—surveying and charting the depths of the Atlantic, of the Indian Ocean and of the Pacific to supply the information we are discussing today and to study the marine biological life and the nature of the deposits on the ocean floor. It was the British "Challenger" which brought up the first of the metallic nodules. As one who has been heavily involved in the Law of the Sea Conference and all the ancillary conferences that go with it—the conferences which are concerned with all those things—I find it bitterly ironic that at a time when, as never before, information is needed about the oceans, Britain should be thinking about curtailing its historic role in hydrography. We would be sacrificing our genuine and legitimate self-interest, but I also insist we would be betraying our commitment to the world.

One thing that is now taken for granted in the Law of the Sea Conference is that the 12-mile territorial limit and the 200-mile economic zone will be adopted. The economic zones give the coastal States rights and responsibilities for the exploitation of the living and material resources within their zone, and this involves establishing base lines. That means charting. This is going to be one of the most litigious areas we have ever moved into, because it is in fact deciding the extension of the frontiers of coastal States out to sea. It also means that within their zone the coastal States are taking on new responsibilities. They have rights, but they have very heavy responsibilities as well. That means something more than the generalised information which applied when these zones belonged to the high seas.

One thing which concerns me most about the 200-mile concept—and this is where I want to follow my noble friend Lord Shackleton on the scientific side—is that the coastal States will exclude scientific surveying and marine biological research; that is to say, the filling in of that 98 per cent. that we do not know about, that seven-tenths of the world which is ocean space. I have had many discussions with representatives of the less-developed countries about what they are taking on. They are suspicious of activities which they think might lead to others exploiting their resources or, like intransigent Iceland, catching their fish or over fishing their zone. They are suspicious in that sense of outsiders, and there is a new national insistence that they should block us out. They are, as I have reminded them, very short-sighted, because if they exclude surveys which they cannot undertake themselves for lack of experience, lack of trained personnel and lack of survey ships, they will not know what the nature of their submarine terrain is or what resources they might themselves develop. On the marine biological side, I have to remind them (which is self-evident) that fish do not know any frontiers.

Britain, through its Hydrographic Service, has fulfilled a great and generous service to the world at large. It provided the surveying facilities for an empire and the Navy which supported that empire. Many of the new nations which have become the coastal less-developed countries of the Law of the Sea Conference were part of that Empire. Apart from all our overall international responsibilities, which include pretty well the totality of the work that the Hydrographic Department has been doing for the world series, and so forth, I suggest that we have a continuing commitment to our ex-Colonies and to our dependencies. My special argument in this debate is addressed very clearly, I hope (and I support my noble friend Lord Shackleton very much in what he said in this respect), to my right honourable friend the Minister of Overseas Development. I suggest that one effective form of aid which he can offer to the less-developed countries is hydrographic services.

Perhaps it is true, as he said in his letter, that he has not had many requests for such aid. That, I would insist—and this is a commentary on a Department which I do not usually criticise—is a measure of the need and of his responsibility in this matter. They do not know what they have taken on, nor the opportunities that the exclusive economic zone concept, which they seized upon so avidly, can offer them. They need—they badly need—the kind of services which the Hydrographic Service can provide, and I would hope that those services would be extended, as indeed the Study Group have suggested, to the provision of experts going out and to consultancies, and to the training of their own hydrographers, and that the survey ships would include seagoing training for such personnel. I think—and I think I know their feelings because I have discussed it so often—that that condition would be essential. They may not like it, because they are suspicious. Many of them, as the survey points out—and I would say this to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, in passing—may not be in a position to become a "customer", and in my view this should be regarded as a proper and educative form of aid.

Among the other civil Departments which the survey lists as "customers", I would underscore the Ministry of the Environment. Hydrography is essential to the safeguarding of the environment. Obviously, the hazards of wrecks, not only at sea but in our own coastal waters, are multiplied and magnified by the increase in the traffic of oil and giant tankers, and also in the shipment of liquefied natural gas in giant tankers. I shall not make your Lordships' flesh creep by enlarging upon what would happen if a natural gas carrier should be wrecked in the proximity of our coasts. The Ministry of the Environment also has a direct involvement through its Ports Branch.

My Lords, as the Study Group Report shows, this sort of work might be done by commercial operators. I have only one very strong proviso. I have no doubt that it will be done efficiently, but it is done for particular and often exclusive purposes, and much of what is found is kept under wraps as industrial secrets. I recall that when the "Glomar Challenger", the US research ship, was pursuing its scientifically immaculate and commercially disinterested drillings in the Mediterranean to give us insights into plate tectonics and continental drift, it appealed to the commercial hydrographers who were known to have been charting and surveying for the oil corporations. They asked for the profiles that they had obtained. The information was categorically refused. The "Glomar Challenger" was interested in oil only to the extent that they did not want to drill into an oil dome with possible leakages, but the information was not available. Therefore, it is perfectly obvious that commercial hydrography, however useful for its hired purposes, is no substitute for the public Hydrological Service.

I want to reinforce everything that has been said here by my noble friend Lord Shackleton and by the other speakers, and say that to me this is one of the most critical decisions—that sounds like an exaggeration, but I think it is basically true—because if we do not realise what it is we are talking about then we do not understand what the world is about; that is to say, by our default in this thing we can produce repercussions which in fact will never be redeemed.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I must confess to a certain apprehension in addressing your Lordships for the first time. I think that this is, in fact, the first time I have spoken in a debate in my life. As some of your Lordships are already aware, I am a man of nautical interests; I am a marine photographer. May I stem the inevitable questions and hasten to assure your Lordships that I do not photograph fishes; that would be a job for a submarine photographer. I take pictures of most things that float on the surface of the water; from oil rigs to supertankers, from yachts and dinghies. In view of this nautical interest and the fact that we are today debating a nautical subject, may I crave your Lordships' indulgence in a somewhat nautical manner by merely saying, "Permission to come aboard, my Lords!"

I have listened with great interest to the debate so far, and particularly the excellent maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape; and it is somewhat of a coincidence that it was in one of the noble Earl's companies that I first started my working life. Will your Lordships bear with me for a few moments while I give a few brief facts relating to the history of the Hydrography Service? The Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty was first established in 1795 because their Lordships were worried that little attention had been paid to hydrography and that other countries, notably the Dutch, had already established services in the field ahead of them. It is of interest to note that, lacking a suitable man of their own, the Navy was forced to draw on the services of a commercial man, one Alexander Dalrymple, who had for many years been hydrographer to the Honourable East India Company.

The original budget was not to exceed £650 per annum of which £100 was put aside for the clerk in care of the charts and £80 a year for the care of office papers. It seems that even in those days they had a problem with their paper work. The main job of the first hydrographer was to place in some order the mass of information gathered by such men as Captain Cook, Captains Vancouver and Bligh as well as information gleaned from foreign charts. After Dalrymple came the first true Royal Naval hydrographer, one Captain Hurd, who will be remembered for his extraordinary accurate and detailed survey of Bermuda, a task which took nine years to complete and which is justly regarded as a model of what a large-scale survey should be. One of Hurd's last official tasks was to obtain the Board of Admiralty's agreement to charts being made available to the Merchant Marine and to the public; and I do not have to say that seamen the world over have benefited from his far-sightedness ever since.

I could speak at length about the achievements of the Hydrographic Service but as this is a limited debate I feel I should not take up any more of your Lordships' time on this subject. I will have one more word on the subject of funds. The Hydrography Service has always got by extremely well on the funds available to it. This is not to say that I do not agree with its expansion, but I should like to make one instance of where they have been especially thrifty in purchasing one of their ships. At the outbreak of hostilities in the last war, the majority of the hydrographic survey ships were commandeered for other purposes. The Hydrographic Service, looking around for a suitable craft in which to install a printing press, no less, came upon a steam yacht of very large beam in America which was purchased and became a very successful part of the hydrographic fleet. This ship was purchased for the magnificent sum of one dollar.

My Lords, I come now to the main topic on which I wish to speak today. I am a yachtsman. I navigate an ocean racing yacht and I am a user of charts. My fellow yachtsmen and I, I think I can safely say today, are legion. I think that the latest Lloyd's Register of Yachts lists 10,000 names and I believe that 15,000 if not more would be a more appropriate figure. At the present moment—and I am thinking particularly about our shores now and not world wide—there are available to yachtsmen two types of chart. One is the Admiralty chart with which I am sure many noble Lords are familiar; the other is a commercially privately-produced chart which I believe retails these days for the same price as the Admiralty charts. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, mentioned a figure of £2. I have been given a figure of £1.80. I do not know which of us is correct. These commercially produced charts are in many ways attractive to look at and multi-coloured but they are designed for (shall I say?) the beginner as far as yachting is concerned. The more experienced yachtsmen tend to prefer the Admiralty charts.

I am not against private enterprise, but I would state that the information for these privately produced charts is obviously obtained from the edited information available in the Admiralty charts. They have not got access to the enormous backlog of resources available to the Hydrographic Department. This brings me to the rather marvelous-looking coloured chart that I am holding and which is a chart produced for yachtsmen by the Dutch hydrographic service. The Dutch are not the only ones in this; several foreign countries' hydrographic departments produce special charts for yachtsmen. As your Lordships can see, they are quite attractive; the information in them is correct and, what is more, they are produced every year, usually coming out about April. They are not corrected, although I believe that corrections are published from time to time in the Dutch nautical magazines.

Surely here is a case for our own Hydrographic Department to create a special department dealing with charts for yachtsmen. This would not, so far as I know, create a very great financial difference. I believe that the extra number of men involved in creating such a service would be six. That is not a large number. The information is already there; it is merely a question of the hydrographer being able to pick up out of his own resources the relevant information for yachtsmen and just produce these special charts.

My Lords, a very good reason for creating a separate yachtsmen's chart branch in the Department is that Europe, at any rate, is shortly to undergo a major change in the buoyage system from Russia to Spain. For some years now the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA, for short), the driving force behind which is, I believe, our own Trinity House, has been working towards a unified system of buoyage throughout the world. This new system, which is a combination of the lateral and cardinal systems of buoyage, was first demonstrated in the Thames Estuary two years ago. I believe that only last week at the most recent IALA Conference at Copenhagen the Germans laid on a full-scale demonstration of the new system in the Baltic. I gather the weather was poor and everybody was delighted with the efficiency of the new system, and how visible the buoys were in poor conditions.

Following the successful demonstration, the countries involved, the major countries in Europe including East Germany and Poland—Russia I do not think has agreed yet, but has expressed her intention to do so; she is interested and enthusiastic—agreed formally last week to support this new system. The present plans are for a booklet to be published by the Hydrography Department in April next year noting all the changes that are to take place and also giving a date for each appropriate change. The work of laying new buoys is to start in April 1977 and is due to be completed at the end of 1978, when new charts will be published. The implementation of this plan is going to place a large burden on the Hydrography Department. I believe about 600 charts are to be affected.

I thank you, my Lords, for your forbearance on this my maiden voyage in your Lordships' House. May I finally say that we have a golden opportunity to create something of great benefit to our many yachtsmen, and, indeed, yachtsmen of other countries. We have the facilities, we have the information; and the cost, with respect, is very small. This service, having been set up, would quickly become self-supporting and would be an immense contribution to the safety of yachts and small craft, including fishing boats. I am well aware that funds are short in these difficult times, but might I suggest that we strike now while the iron is hot and make a valuable investment for the future of our yachtsmen's enjoyment of the sea?


My Lords, may I remind the House that if all noble Lords who have put their names down to speak are to do so, then there is now left less than five minutes per speaker.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, upon steering his way on his maiden voyage and bringing it to such a successful conclusion, and, in a debate which has brought up so many points, managing to bring up the fresh and important point of the yachtsman, which hitherto has been neglected. We look forward to hearing him often in the future, and will never refuse him permission to come aboard. I should also like to offer congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, and say how appropriate it was that the speaker follow- him should be an Angus bairn. Probably the first piece of poetry he learned was what he quoted in your Lordships' House today. I will be as brief as I can—and I see that one minute has already gone! I am Past President of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, and I am also on the Council, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh which is also much concerned. I do not want to waste time going over all that the noble Lord has said so forcefully and well, but I want to say something about the Scottish problem.

Only a small part of the Scottish coasts, the Firths of Clyde, the Forth and Tay have been surveyed on a Class A basis, which means reasonably frequent revision of the charts, although some of the charts are by no means up to date. Further work has been carried out on a Class A basis on certain of the exits from the platform construction sites on the West Coast, and some other parts off the West Coast. This is carried out by side-scan sonar and allows for the maximum draught of ships of 480,000 tons dead weight. This survey is supported by some echo sounding work. This is mostly on the West Coast but it does not go down very far. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that from Peterhead, north of Aberdeen, right up to Unst, the Northern tip of the Shetlands, with the Muckle Flagga Lighthouse, there is absolutely nothing but the old leadline survey which allows for a maximum draught of ten metres. It is not a complete survey at that. There is, however, a small area round the Northerly tip of Scotland, round Wick, and the exit or entrance, as you like to have it, of the Pentland Firth which has been surveyed. But Scapa Flow has not, and Scapa Flow is an important terminal. A great deal of work requires to be done there.

To my mind, the case is absolutely clear for an extension of the modern hydrographic survey of the North Sea. That should be accomplished as quickly as possible and then it must be extended over the rest of the continental shelf, at least as far out as to the Rockall and Rosemary Banks. To pay off next spring two ocean survey vessels and one inshore craft is, to put it as mildly as I can, imprudent. Something must be done. Five minutes of my time is up, and I must stop. I beseech the Government to pay attention to the seed corn of our shipping, an enterprise which brings us in balance of payments something of the order of £600 million a year. Also it is the seed corn for our offshore industry, which is even more vital to our balance of payments. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has reminded us, there are the rare mineral nodules, and who knows how much they are worth? I beseech the Government to use common sense and imagination and not to throw away this seed but to exploit its great potential.

6.39 p.m.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, has realised that this is a subject which arouses great interest and concern in your Lordships' House. It is regrettable that this is a short debate, when so many of us have so many things we should like to say forcefully to Her Majesty's Government. This is not the first time I have spoken on this matter; I did so some months back as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea. My noble friend Lord Shackleton was a more distinguished chairman in earlier days. We became extremely concerned about the state of our hydrographic survey because we were concerned with the deep draught tankers and offshore operations. I am delighted to learn that, at long last, the Department of Energy have decided to make some contribution towards the very necessary surveying required round our own waters. I have a chart which I shall be happy to show to any noble Lord who wishes to see it. This shows in great detail the vast areas around our own shores and the Continental Shelf which have not been adequately surveyed, as the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has emphasised.

I followed up the remarks I made in your Lordships' House with a letter to Mr. Frank Judd, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. I should like to quote a few sentences from it. But first may I say that the offshore operations and the dilatoriness of Her Majesty's Government in undertaking this survey is a matter of considerable concern. Our oil supplies from the North Sea are delayed as compared with our more optimistic estimates, and they may be still further delayed by the lack of foresight in this matter of surveying the tow routes and other necessary matters.

However, we are concerned also with other parts of the world and particularly, as my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder said, with the almost certain outcome of the Law of the Sea Conference, that is, the need for far greater attention to be paid to hydrographic work in areas where our Admiralty charts have hitherto been relied upon, and where the countries concerned simply do not have the necessary resources or expertise to carry them on. I wrote to Mr. Judd as follows: … while we recognise our more immediate responsibility in our home waters, we take a very poor view of any abandonment of our customary hydrographic responsibilities elsewhere before satisfactory arrangements have been made. Of course we would favour contributions to the cost from other interested parties, but we remain a seafaring and trading nation and have an interest in maintaining proper services in areas where at present others may not be in a position to take over. Fresh arrangements are bound to take time. It would be both foolish and selfish not to recognise this. In some parts of the world strong diplomatic initiatives may be required. I should like my noble friend Lord Winterbottom, when he replies, to tell us whether any displomatic initiatives have been taken. I am not against the consumer-contractor attitude in a matter of this sort. As other noble Lords have pointed out, at home there are several Government Departments which ought to be contributing, and we have so far had news only of the Department of Energy. Overseas there are other interests which also ought to be contributing. What have we done by way of salesmanship? You do not make contracts unless you try to sell, and I should like to know just what has been done. I wrote to Mr. Judd in September and had a polite acknowledgement from him in October; matters had not yet reached the stage where it was possible for him to make a public statement. I therefore got in touch with his Department prior to this debate and had from them a very interesting and succinct report on the current situation, in which the options are pointed out. But there is not one single word here about any efforts which have been made to enlist co-operation, either at home or abroad; and it appears to me that we cannot allow a service of this kind, to which we all attach such importance, simply to decline by default because Her Majesty's Government have not been sufficiently well co-ordinated or energetic to take steps in an area which those of us who know anything at all about this, even lay persons like myself, recognise to be of very great importance.

The options, as set out in the final paragraph of the memorandum I have received from Mr. Judd's office, are as follows. The first is a reduction in the Fleet, causing dissipation of an important national asset which includes both men and equipment. This would mean virtually abandoning the worldwide Admiralty Chart Series. The second option is the retention of the Fleet at its present level, making some inroads into priority tasks and maintaining at least a holding position with regard to the Admiralty Chart Series. The third option is the expansion of the Fleet to its optimum level to ensure progress on all the identified tasks within an acceptable time-scale. The third option may be beyond our resources at the present time, but surely we can at least retain the Fleet at its present level. That is the least that any of us in this House who are concerned with this matter would regard as acceptable. To accept the first option, to reduce the Fleet and cause dissipation of an important national asset is, surely, false economy—

Several Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness WHITE

And it would show an utter bankruptcy of statesmanship. I am therefore confident that my noble friend will be able to give us a more positive reply than we have hitherto received.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those given by other noble Lords to the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, and to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has done this House a great service in bringing this matter to your Lordships' attention. This country is still heavily influenced by matters marine, and hydrography is therefore of vital interest to us all. Despite the fact that I have an interest in the shipping industry, the wisdom, experience and expertise of other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate is much greater than mine, and I do not intend to attempt emulation. Rather, I should like to concentrate my remarks on Chapter 5 of the Report, and particularly on paragraphs 131 to 152. Both the Report and the speeches of noble Lords have made one point very clear: the need for hydrography, for whatever reason, is increasing while funds are decreasing.

The role of the Royal Navy in hydrography is one to be both envied and admired. Nevertheless, it is also an historical role, dating from the time when Britannia did indeed rule the waves. Those days are gone—many might say sadly—but it is a fact. It therefore seems curious that the world should, in effect, still expect the British taxpayer to fund its hydrography. On the other hand, the Report makes the claim that "Admiralty charts are best", and I doubt whether any would argue with that. Surely, therefore, the problem is one of alternative funding. In the long run, a means must be found to finance, expand and, hopefully, make international such increasing portion of the hydrographer's traditional role as may not fall strictly into a defence category. I wholly agree with the Report's findings on that point, except that I should like to have seen greater emphasis placed on the potential role of the International Hydrographic Organisation. I suggest that the long-term solution could be for an organisation such as the United Nations or the World Bank to fund the IHO which, in turn, could sub-contract civil hydrography to both the Royal Navy per se and to others using Royal Navy hydrographic expertise.

In the medium run—the Report mentions seven years I would take slight issue with the Group's conclusion in paragraph 88 that expansion in the area of commercial surveying companies could not be relied upon to assist in meeting the identified risks. I suggest that further contact with commercial hydrographic organisations would be merited, in order to assess their reactions to contracts with the Ministry of Defence, which is not so different from the present chartering of tugs for fishery protection.

In the short term, I warmly support the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, and the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, that the retail cost of charts could, and should, be significantly increased. Another tack, particularly with reference to home waters, might be an approach to Brussels. I have no doubt that the Danish, German, Dutch, Belgian, French and Irish vessels use Admiralty charts, and a further contribution to their costs over and above their actual price would not seem unjustified.

May I end on a graphic note? If we cease to be able to draw the waters as well as we have done in the past, our shipping and that of other nations faces a hazardous future. Unless adequate means are found to pay for hydrography of the highest calibre, those same waters are the more likely to draw under those who use the charts.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by saying how much we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for introducing this debate, and I suspect that most of us wish it could go on a great deal longer than it will be allowed to do. Secondly, may I congratulate my noble friend Lord Inchcape on breaking his silence with an admirable meaty and very tidy sandwich; and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for introducing so charmingly a subject which I confess is very dear to my own heart. May I now declare the customary interest as one who has been concerned—to a much smaller degree, but for a rather longer period than my noble friend Lord Inchcape—in trying to run ships. But, of course, the interest in this subject extends far beyond that of either defence or commercial shipping. It extends to almost everybody in these Islands and to a very large number of people in the rest of the world besides, in all its aspects—shipping, the ocean bed, energy and so on. However, if I may come back for two miuutes to the more lowly role of commercial shipowner, I should like to try to produce an illustration—I cannot claim it is an argument—on the matter of the cost which we are talking about.

Roughly speaking, the figures mentioned in the Report appear to range between a requirement of £90 million for the optimum programme, down to something under £50 million or possibly a little less—it all depends on how much you get from elsewhere—or a programme which one might get by on, and that spread over a period of seven years with the greater weight on it towards the latter end when resources might be less tight. In the widest shipping terms, I think one can say that hydrographic services are, in a sense, an insurance—an insurance, in particular, against stranding, though it spreads over into collision and other consequences of faulty navigation—and their cost, if one takes that view, may fairly be accepted as in the nature of an insurance premium.

What are we paying an insurance premium on? What are the losses which these services may help to prevent? In the main, I think it is true that strandings are more frequent among small vessels than large, but, as has already been said, when one is getting vessels of up to 60 ft. to 90 ft. draught—very large ships—the water which they can use is more limited and, if it is not properly surveyed, more dangerous. In general, these vessels are tankers. There are a fair number already in service and they may not increase very much in number—though they will undoubtedly increase somewhat in the years which the Report covers.

A very large tanker of 450,000 tons deadweight costs £40 million, or a little more. A 250,000 tons tanker, of which there are many in service already, costs about £25 million. There are already known cases of large tankers touching the bottom, or worse, in areas where the charting has been insufficient. If you have a total loss of two 450,000 tons deadweight tankers, you have lost virtually the cost of what is required for the whole hydrographic survey in the years ahead. Four 250,000 tons tankers would produce about the same result. Not only that—if you lose a tanker you will rip out her bottom and spill oil, and the best estimate I have from an oil company, as recently as yesterday, is that the cost of recovering the vessel and correcting the damage caused by spilled oil is of the order of £50 for every ton of oil spilled. So your Lordships can add that to the sum. If, then, in the next seven years, by the improvement of hydrographic services, you were to save two tankers which might otherwise be lost—and it is not a wild surmise, though admittedly nobody can know for sure—you have just about come out square at the end of the day.

Finally, my Lords, I cannot resist saying, as other noble Lords have done, that if we are to spend money in this country then, for heaven's sake!, let us spend it on things which we do well and not on things which we do badly.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the Government should pause and give careful consideration to this Report when considering the future of this celebrated Department, because the work of the hydrographer, as the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, has pointed out, and as I should like to emphasise, goes far beyond defence and shipping. If the Government, as they so often say, are looking for new ventures, then, unless they have maps of the sea floor, their ventures will be restricted to land: yet I suggest, with all sincerity, that man's material destiny will depend upon the exploitation of the mineral resources which lie in that hidden world beneath the oceans. To emphasise my plea, my Lords, permit me to recount three anecdotes.

About 15 years ago I was engaged in an academic exercise of projecting the rock structures of Pembrokeshire into the Irish Sea. I should have been unable to do that without the aid of the Hydrographic Department. They knew, therefore, of my work which was intended to find an oilfield in the Irish Sea, when the oil and gas of the North Sea were still a geological pipe-dream. Then, about 10 years ago, an aeroplane carrying vital prototype equipment disappeared into the Irish Sea and the Navy was called out to search for what was literally a needle in an ocean—and they found it. Because of my work, I was linked up with the ships by radio telephone, and we were able to exchange opinions as to what their magnetometers et cetera were finding. Out of this survey—and this is the point I wish to emphasise—came this interesting discovery. We discovered a magnetic ore body in the Irish Sea which is probably big enough to remove all future need for importing iron ore into this country. Ten years ago it was a pipe-dream, yet today, because we can put platforms into deep waters, we can create a mine over that ore bed with a tunnel coming out on to land, and thereby create honest-to-goodness work for miners.

My second anecdote starts like this. About 100 million years ago, several hundred feet of rock was eroded off the surface of Cornwall and swept into the Bristol Channel. The movement of that sediment, thanks to the work of the Hydrographic Department, can now be evaluated. As a consequence, in collaboration with the Institute of Geological Sciences a minibus is being invented which will be able to travel along the sea floor and pick up the concentrates of tin which the sea has developed in the Bristol Channel in the past 100 million years. We could not have done that without the work of the Hydrographic department.

Thirdly, I turn to their wide-ranging interests. Your Lordships will see in the list of their activities that they work in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and British Antarctica. It was my good fortune to have to investigate a collection of specimens brought back from the ill-fated expedition of Captain Scott to the South Pole. Among these specimens was one of sandstone which was representative of the great tract of beaten sandstones in Antarctica. Doctor Elliott and I found oil in it. This was the first indication that there might be an oilfield in Antarctica. If it had not been for the work of the hydrographer in that area we could not have begun to project that idea into that important strategic area. With those three anecdotes I should like to impress upon Her Majesty's Government the need not only to sustain this centre of excellence of world renown but to increase the Vote, because this is a winner.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, other noble Lords will no doubt share my prayer that we shall not have to wait another 36 years before we hear the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, a second time. At any rate, if we have to wait that long I shall hear him from somewhere else! It has been a pleasure to us all to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, coming on board on his maiden voyage, a noble Lord whose father we remember so affectionately and so recently and whose mother we so enjoy seeing about this building still. To hear their son enter upon our affairs this afternoon with such confidence, mingled with due modesty, has been a delight. The noble Lord marshalled his facts without any trouble over his papers and showed us a particular knowledge of aspects of maritime life, notably the buoyage system.

The Hydrographic Study Group reminds us in paragraphs 154 and 155 of Britain's great and growing dependence on the sea, on the energy sources beneath it, on the need to transport fuels and raw materials and on the need to have a capacity for exporting the finished products that arise". When our eyes have been perhaps unduly focussed on the Continent of Europe, the Report calls attention to our worldwide relationship with the oceans and stresses that our requirements from the sea have increased in recent years and are increasing with marked rapidity. When one realises that the contribution of the shipping industry to our visible and invisible exports has risen from around £400 million in 1966 to nearly £1,500 million gross at the present time one has a measurement of the care to be taken in this matter.

The President of the Royal Geographical Society wrote only the other day to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, his predecessor. I saw that letter. He wrote that geographers are becoming more and more concerned about the future of the Hydrographic Service. They are closely interested, as other noble Lords have already stressed this afternoon, in the seabed. In particular, he drew attention to a matter which must interest those of your Lordships who are specially concerned with the Third World: the fact that the world's population will become increasingly dependent upon the recovery of the natural resources under the oceans.

The astonishing picture of the seas around our coasts being in great part not surveyed to modern standards at the present time has taken us by surprise. In addition to the stretch to which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, referred from Peterhead to the Shetlands and the area right out to Rockall, noble Lords may not be aware that even the area between Southampton Water and Beachy Head is not properly surveyed to modern standards. The Hydrographer's Report of 1974 disclosed that there were dangerous shoals off the Hebrides on one of the preferred platform tow-out routes, and that in a recommended seaway off East Anglia there were shoals not known about hitherto. It also disclosed that no fewer than 95 uncharted wrecks were found in the English Channel alone.

There has been reference to the urgency of towing out platforms next May. In particular the Elf platform is to go out to the Frigg Field in May 1976, for which a route has yet to be found. The Frigg Field is destined to provide no less than one-third of this country's gas consumption. I am thinking not only about tow-out routes from the West of Scotland to the Northern areas of the North Sea, but also about the fact that we should look ahead to the area of the Western Approaches once the Franco-British argument about the location of the median line (now submitted to arbitration) has been disposed of. We have to look to the time when there are drillings, and, hopefully, discoveries in those deep waters for which large platforms, also built in the West of Scotland, will need to be floated out. Therefore, the tow out route areas that will require to be surveyed reach not only to the Northern part of the North Sea but also from the West of Scotland to the Western Approaches.

The real need is to keep the existing survey fleet and to improve upon it. We are talking about something like £5 million or £6 million a year for seven years. It was once said—and this would apply to the Government at this moment—that a sovereign's ear still brooks a subject's question. This week I heard about a civilised Government in Western Europe proposing to allocate about £170 million to a project of doubtful value. Do not let us turn knives in wounds, but to be exposed in this week of all weeks to the possibility of a Government querying £5½ million or £6 million for seven years is to he exposed to the morose and the macabre. Whence shall this extra money come? Since the Department of Trade and the Department of Energy were both represented on the Study Group, there are sources in that area. It is incredible to me, but it is the case that the Department of the Environment was not even represented on the Study Group, although it was politely kept informed. No doubt they, too, will have an interest.

But when one looks at this matter one cannot help recalling the letters of Walter H. Page, the American Ambassador to these Islands before the First World War. He reported to his Government in 1912 that the British were a charming people, that they were a civilised people, but that they were living on their capital and did not realise that it was not going to last them for as long as they imagined. Or, one might go back to King Richard II.0 This England never did, nor never shall, Lie at the proud foot of the conqueror, But when it first did help to wound itself".

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to address your Lordships briefly and to start by saying how deeply grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for giving the benefit of his great wisdom, and indeed moderation, to the introduction of this debate, which I hope will give it particular credence with the Government. There is no doubt that on all sides of the House, of all Parties and all ages, we are of one opinion. I should also like to offer my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, and to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for their splendid maiden speeches. It was a joy to have people not only making their initial speech on such a subject, which perhaps is an indication of the seriousness with which people view this matter, but also that they made such splendid speeches.

My particular claim to address your Lordships is that I have had the privilege of commanding Her Majesty's ships in both home and foreign waters, as far to the East and South as New Zealand and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and as far to the North and the East as Japan, and I have had to use these hydrographic charts extensively. They are very familiar, with the high value not only of the charts but also of the publications which go with them, which in a sense are as important as the charts themselves. Both these things need to be taken into account when one is viewing what the Hydrographic Service can render as a service to this country, and indeed to the rest of the world.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, I have had opportunities to yacht in home waters, and perhaps one has a slightly different need for a chart then, but the same chart will do for both. Though I support the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in his suggestion—and indeed the Report does too, in a sense—that there should be special charts for yachtsmen, I should not like that to detract too much from the main purpose of the charting of the seas where they have not been charted to date.

With that sort of experience I have also had the opportunity of using American and French charts, which again are mentioned in the Report. America in particular is mentioned as being a major chart producer. I would not wish to run down either of those types of chart, and one must take into account the fact that what one is trained to use, and use extensively, one gets used to; but for all that, I suggest that the British charts are of more general value to the world than either the American or the French charts. Why this should be so I do not really know, but I venture to suggest that one reason might be that the Hydrographic Service has always been an integral part of the Royal Navy. Therefore the people who are doing the surveying and producing the charts are themselves part of an organisation of practical mariners. I suspect that some of the charting that is done by other nations (although of course not all of it) may be done by what may be described as cartographers rather than hydrographers. Whatever may be the case, I think it would be a terrible loss to the world if, for some merely minimal economy, we put ourselves in the position of not being able to cover the world with our worldwide series of charts.

If we were to put ourselves in that position we should probably not be able to continue the present position of being able on a free basis to exchange hydrographic information with other nations, because if we are not going to give them a reasonable amount of information why should they give us any? At the moment I suspect that the balance is certainly no better than 50/50 in our favour, and it may be that in the exchange of charting information with the rest of the world we are trading on our reputation and our policy more than on our quantity. It is certainly something that the Government need to bear in mind if they are thinking of being mean about this whole affair.

I think it is reasonable that we should accept the argument that the defence Vote can, roughly speaking, cover only two-thirds of what is required for the extended hydrographic coverage which is suggested in the Report. I also suggest that there is some merit in this provided we can find a solution regarding how the money is to be found. I feel that over the past 10 or 15 years the Hydrographic Service has perhaps been run down rather more than it otherwise would be because it has been tied to the Navy, which has been under almost continual threat from Governments ever since I can remember. It might be that we should have had a bigger Hydrographic Service if, in financial terms, it had not been tied quite so closely to the Navy.

I do not want your Lordships to misunderstand me on this point. In my view one thing is absolutely vital. Here I come back to my first point, that the Hydrographic Service must continue to be managed by the Navy so that it provides the service against a background of people who know what is required of it. I venture to suggest that the Navy has managed it very well in the past, and it would be crazy to "go commercial" to any large extent.

I must not detain your Lordships long but I wish to make two further points. I have been interested that no noble Lords have said this. The compilers of the Report need very specially to be congratulated, not only on an excellent and comprehensive Report but a very modest one. If I have any criticism it is that it does not set its sights quite high enough. From what we have heard, particularly against the scientific background of some of the contributions from your Lordships, we could well do with a rather greater hydrographic effort than is suggested here. I would suggest further that the proposed introduction of the new ships that are suggested to augment the hydrographic fleet is late rather than early. However, be that as it may, let us accept it as it stands and leave ourselves with the problem: where are we to find £30 million, or where do we find between £4 and £5 million a year?

I think we must judge this against other types of Government expenditure—I hesitate to use another word; and one form of expenditure that particularly comes to mind is the grant which the Government gave of, initially, £30 million and later more, to enable the Manpower Services Commission to give special grants for encouraging the training of school leavers who would otherwise be unemployed. I remember very well—because at that stage I was involved in that sort of thing—that one of the main arguments for doing that was that it was an investment in the future. I entirely applaud that attitude and think it is absolutely true, but I would suggest to the Government that what we are talking about is an investment in the future, too, in terms of money, of quite as much importance. When we come to think of what we shall get for the £30 million as compared with what these unfortunate young men will get from their limited training over six months, it does not bear comparison.

One could go on labouring this point, but I have exceeded my time. Finally, I must ask the Government whether they can bring themselves to see that the need for this hydrographic effort is not one for individual navies or individual Departments of Energy or individual scientific effort. It is a need that the country has, so why do the Government not levy themselves (shall we say?) out of the returns from the Customs and Excise to pay themselves back for the cost of this small fee.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, if your Lordships will allow me to, I should like to intervene for only a few minutes for a special reason, in that I am captain and navigator of my own ship. I navigate 3,000 or 4,000 miles a year, and I live in my own ship for upwards of three months of the year. I have navigated all the waters which lie between the North of Norway and Istanbul, and I know something about charts. If I may take an analogy from the wonderful maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, this afternoon, it is that just as the British racehorse is the thoroughbred whose blood is wanted in all parts of the world, so that which emanates from the office of the Hydrographer of the Navy is the thoroughbred of charts. Wherever I have been I have used British charts wherever I possibly could, because they have always been better made, better put together, and have always carried better information. They are better in every possible respect.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will impress upon his colleagues the necessity of seeing that the services which the Office of the Hydrographer give to seamen throughout the world are not in any way curtailed. I found to my cost when using foreign charts that one gets into difficulties. I nearly sank my own ship in the middle of Sweden of all places-100 miles away from the sea—simply because the chart I was using was not as well marked as a British chart would have been. It would never have happened if I had been using a British chart.

The Hydrographer is amenable to suggestions from users of charts. I managed to get the frontier between Albania and Greece, which goes out into the sea, shown on the chart—having been nearly "put into the bag" myself for missing it before. This office deserves every possible encouragement. In the light of my not inconsiderable experience of the work it does, I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will do everything he can to see that the work progresses.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, before replying to the debate, may I add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers who have made such a valuable contribution to our discussions today. The noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, was both concise and extremely well informed, speaking from a depth of knowledge which I envy. Perhaps it might not be an inappropriate moment to thank the British shipping industry for the great help they gave in preparing this survey. The noble Earl might care to pass on the thanks of my honourable friend. We also listened with pleasure to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, whose father we all knew and liked so well. We hope we shall hear from him from time to time on the matters on which he has a special expertise, particularly with regard to yachting. He made a valuable point about the desirability of having special charts for this great recreational past-time, which is also an important industry. The noble Lord will be glad to know that the question of producing special yachting charts is under consideration. It is simply a problem, once again, of the shortage of manpower and money. The work has to be fitted into the whole of the requirements imposed upon the Hydrographer, but the matter is under consideration.

I know the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for focussing our attention on the Report of the Hydrographic Study Group. It is clear that your Lordships consider that the Report is far-reaching and important. Noble Lords are also aware that it is not only a matter of the importance of the work which it is doing now, but also of the value of the work it has done in the past, for the best part of 200 years. The Study Group has tried to define the extent of the problems that the Hydrographer is facing, and has tried to state the resources that are needed, but unfortunately, just to state the problem does not mean that it is thereby solved. Nevertheless, a clear statement of the problems and alternatives is of value in finding a solution.

As every noble Lord who has spoken has pointed out, the requirements for hydrographic surveys have been changing significantly and fast. The advent of deep-draught merchant vessels operating with up to 28 metres draught is one example. Another example is the need to move large and unwieldy constructions into position, and to undertake geophysical surveys of the Continental Shelf in connection with the exploitation of our offshore resources. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, illustrated clearly the potential we face if we use our skilled resources aright.

Defence requirements for hydrographic surveys have not changed in quite the same way. While the needs for new hydrographic and oceanographic data for submarine and anti-submarine operations have increased in areas not normally used by merchant shipping, the surface warships of the Royal Navy are of much shallower draught than the very large crew carriers which are operating commercially, and are no longer regularly deployed over such large areas since, following the Defence Review, naval forces will be predominantly based in the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel areas.

All these conflicting requirements in the context of a shrinking Defence Budget, which your Lordships have recognised, brought about a need to identify separately civil and defence requirements, and to consider how the civil requirements can be financed from civil funds. The Hydrographic Study Group was therefore set up to identify the tasks, to assess their priority and the resources needed to carry them out, and also to consider possible sources of funding. As I said earlier, this was a significant development, since the surveying task was considered in a co-ordinated fashion by a body composed of Government Departments, offshore operators, shipping interests and port authorities.

I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, for his generous remarks about the setting up of the Group which I will convey to my honourable friend, the Navy Minister. The Study Group was informed, as your Lordships have pointed out, that the defence hydrographic requirements in future could be met by a reduced survey fleet of two ocean survey ships, four coastal survey vessels and four inshore survey craft. A smaller number of ships could be financed from the Defence Budget, but to retain the others in order to progress civil tasks would require the Ministry of Defence to maintain expenditure at a pre-Defence Review level, the gap between the pre-and post-Review figures being some £18 million spread over the next seven years at 1974 prices.

May I at this point say that, although I appreciate the force of all the arguments deployed today, I cannot give any guarantees at this stage about the future of particular ships; but I can say that the Study Group Report will be fully taken into account before final decisions are made. I must say that the cogent arguments put forward today must also influence the decisions that will be reached by the Group in due course. It is unnecessary for me to repeat that no one would wish to underrate the significance of an adequate surveying effort. Nearly every activity that takes place on or under the water has been touched on today. These activities, which are expanding fast and are costing increasingly large sums of money, simply cannot be ignored. The arguments in favour of proper surveying, whether social, environmental, industrial, or simply entrepreneurial, are quite overwhelming. This is a House which knows how the machinery of government works, and will appreciate that at this critical time in the nation's economy obviously the balance of resources against requirements is extremely difficult; it requires extremely careful balancing.

The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, are very valid in this argument. I think it was Lord Mottistone who said that one of the problems was that the Hydrographic Vote was in part concealed within the total Naval Vote. One of the points raised in the Study is the possibility of the Hydrographic Department having its own Vote; that is, in a sense giving it the power to argue its own case directly with the Treasury instead of having to, as it were, stand in a queue for limited resources. I think this is an area which could produce some better consideration of the Hydrographic Service.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell me this. This would not mean that the Hydrographic Service would be managed separately. For management and operational purposes, would it still continue to come under the Navy Department of the Ministry of Defence?


My Lords, I think everybody agrees that the close links between the Navy Department and the Hydrographic Office must be maintained, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, but I imagine the relationship might be very similar to the Met. Office, which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned. It would have a clear personality and would be able to argue its own case directly face to face with the Treasury.

I must say that I found sympathy with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that, with the needs for surveying becoming more and more clearly necessary to the whole economic life of this country, perhaps crude commercialism might also be applied to solving this problem. In fact, the Hydrographic Office has a very good commercial sense now. It is starting to work in the Persian Gulf, and if the work is of sufficient value it could well be that one of the ocean survey ships will be working on contract in that area, thus retaining its valuable service at no cost to the nation. Work is being done all over the world and money is being earned on a very substantial scale from the activities of this Department, particularly in the area of production of charts.

May I make one further point in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. He asked about the future of HMS "Endurance". I can tell him that no decision has been taken about HMS "Endurance". I am sure that its value to the Falkland Islands will be borne in mind when a final decision is reached on this subject. No decision has been reached as yet about its future.

My Lords, this has been a most valuable debate. As I said, the force of the arguments put forward in favour of retaining the Service certainly at its present strength, and if possible increasing it, must, in my view, influence Her Majesty's Government. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government and this House, I should like once again to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for initiating this most valuable discussion.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to this most distinguished team of speakers. We have done rather well today—all ages, all Parties or no Party, all types of experience. I am most grateful to all noble Lords, not least because, owing to a slight miscalculation by my noble friend, Lord Jacques, they cut their speeches shorter than they needed to. None the less, this also called for a lot of discipline. May I also warmly congratulate the two maiden speakers, who did exceedingly well, as other noble Lords have said. The late Lord Greenway was somebody we were all very fond of. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway like the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, brought a great deal of experience to bear on this subject.

Curiously enough, I have now got seven minutes, but I do not propose to emulate the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and merely take up the time. However, it gives me a chance to make one or two points. In particular, I rather regret that I failed to refer to the staff at Taunton. They are inadequate in number for the job they have to do. That side is a very important side, and if we are to pay tribute, as I am sure we all do, to the Naval Hydrographic Service, I am sure we should recognise the achievements of the staff at Taunton. Some of the costs of the increased staff, because they need an increased staff, will be covered by the increased chart prices which we hope will be achieved. Of course, the restrictions on the numbers of civil servants are not applicable since these workers are productive and self-financing—it is important to recognise that.

My Lords, I am a little disappointed with my noble friend's reply; indeed I am very disappointed, though I do not blame him personally for it. I am sure his heart is entirely in the right place, as indeed is that of the Under-Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Frank Judd; they all feel strongly on this subject. I am a little surprised that the noble Lord cannot give us more account of what is happening. I have had a letter, which I quoted earlier, from the former Minister of State for Energy, saying that the Department of Energy were prepared to fund. Whereas I am delighted that my noble friend is able to assure us that what has been said today will be taken careful note of, the matter cannot wait in this sort of way; it is too urgent. Crews are waiting to know what their futures are, I would even give way to the noble Lord now if he were able to say something on this subject. I know how difficult it is. Any ex-Minister knows the problems of getting decisions through, but I hope that an announcement will be made, if net while Parliament is still sitting, before the end of the year. I am hopeful of Lord Henley's debate, and the sooner that debate comes on the better, as an additional threat to possible Government lethargy on a matter which is admittedly very much wider than today's but, as the noble Lord made clear, fundamental to the matters about which he is going to speak. I will not pursue the argument that there should be a separate Minister, but if the Government go on much longer I think they will have almost made the noble Lord's case.

I am very grateful for the announcement about HMS "Endurance" because there have been reports in the Press which have been very damaging. If no decision has been taken, that is one no decision that I welcome. So many of us have an affectionate regard for the work of the Hydrographer; many of us who have handled charts like Admiralty pilots. I still remember an old Admiralty pilot book, which was the most up to date one, showing the results of some of Nair's surveys on the North Coast of Greenland. They were the only source of information, and they were so well set out and readable. I do not know now, with the addition of calculators and new machines, whether one has to make quite as much use of the ephemerides or whatever they used to be called; I cannot remember now. I am grateful about HMS "Endurance". As I indicated, I am hoping to go to South Georgia in "Endurance". I shall be the first member of my family to visit my father's grave there, and it is a great honour for me to go in a ship which is not actually part of the Hydrographer's fleet but in fact does a great deal of work for him. I hope that the noble Lord, if not tonight tomorrow morning, will rush and convey the strong and unanimous opinions, and the very well informed opinions, which have been expressed in your Lordships' House. We are looking for action. I do not want to emphasise the actual amount of money, but what is needed is an immediate decision to allow the present hydrographic fleet to continue. I am sure that the whole House would wish to send its best wishes and thanks to a very fine Department of State. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.