HL Deb 15 June 1976 vol 373 cc475-500

4.54 p.m.

Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what naval equipment will be made available for policing the proposed 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Unstarred Question introduces a small debate which I think may range rather wider than might at first appear. All the indications are that within six months we shall have what is called an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles around the shores of these islands where we have the longest coastline in Europe. In addition to fishing activities there, we have other activities like oil extraction and the possibility of searching for nodules. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, will refer to nodules, but I suspect that he might. Also, we have the possibility of fish farming. With an Exclusive Economic Zone—which is an extremely difficult term to keep on referring to, so perhaps I may call it the EEZ from now on—we shall have a number of economic opportunities which we may need to defend. With these opportunities there will go certain responsibilities—above all the protection of our activities, the enforcement of the rules and dealing with any emergencies which take place in these areas.

Today I shall not concern myself with what the policies in the EEZ are going to be. For example, there is the question of our rights under the EEC regulations which are to be debated later in this House. However, this raises the question of who is going to make the regulations, and possibly the noble Lord will be able to say a word or two about that. My point is simply that whatever regulations are made they will have to be enforced in some way, and the purpose of this Unstarred Question is to probe the Government's thoughts on the equipment and the organisation which they envisage setting up to carry out this task.

The difficulties were well illustrated by the humiliations which we suffered in the unhappy cod war. We had the sad sight of expensive and sophisticated but thin-skinned frigates being cast in a role for which they were never designed. Though they were handled with great devotion and brilliance under very arduous conditions, this could not compensate for the fundamental unsuitability of the vessels when they found themselves being, frankly, trounced by the tough Icelandic gunboats in the hands of specialists. I hope that we do not need to envisage a repetition of this type of confrontation, but I think that we have to face the possibility of incursions from some of the more predatory fishing nations, notably Russia and Japan.

It is worth saying in passing that fishery protection in the three-mile limit around these coasts has been a standing joke among fishermen for years. We all know that they come up on the radio the moment the fishery protection vessel appears and that by the time the vessel gets there they are all behaving as they ought. I may add that this has not stopped the fishermen from complaining about the inefficiency with which the regulations are being enforced against the vessels which come in from Holland, Belgium and France.

In the face of the probing by critics of some of the vessels which are known to have been ordered, the Government so far have maintained what one can only call an Olympian silence. I hope that this afternoon we shall be able to induce them to draw aside the veil which cloaks their rather sphinx-like inscrutability on these issues. I shall be coming later to the diversity of interests which are involved in the multiplicity of tasks to which I have already alluded, but I should be interested to know from the noble Lord what contribution the Government think can be made by maritime reconnaissance aircraft, such as the Nimrod. Obviously, they could engage in spotting and reporting, but any true enforcement would obviously have to be carried out by surface vessels. This is the equivalent of the argument about bombers and infantry: whether or not these surface vessels should be equipped with helicopters to work with them. This brings us to the ships which the Government have told us that they are ordering. Knowledgeable opinion that I have sounded seems to be unanimous that the ships are unsuitable, late in delivery, and represent poor value for money.

With regard to the matter of costs, frankly the Government only have themselves to blame if wild rumours are rife about the cost of these vessels. In spite of the much discussed open government policy the Ministry of Defence, in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, have resolutely refused to disclose either the budget or the actual costs in the case of either the Island class trawlers or the Bird class patrol boats. In the case of the Bird class, in a letter which the noble Lord wrote to me he said that the price was still being negotiated although the vessel was taken into service last year. If there is still an argument on more than a marginal element of the cost, this suggests to me that something is very seriously amiss in the relations between the Navy and the builders.

But, more generally, the Department say that it is not their policy to publish costs, for security reasons. Yet within the Ministry of Defence we find the RAF announcing both the budgeted cost and the actual costs of aeroplanes like the multi-role combat aircraft—the Tornado—where we are in the same general region of cost, and I should like to suggest to the noble Lord that perhaps it is about time the Navy pursued the same policy as the RAF.

The vessels most frequently talked about are the five Island or Jura class armed trawlers which are alleged to be costing altogether something in the region of £15 million. These are single-screw ships of 1,250 tons with a design speed—and I emphasise "a design speed"—of 16 knots. But their most glaring deficiency is that they were certainly not originally designed to carry a helicopter. Some of the reference books say that they are being modified to carry a helicopter. This question was asked in another place, but unfortunately the Minister was stopped in his tracks before he was able to answer it. I should be interested to know from the noble Lord whether it is intended to modify them and, if it is, what these modifications will cost, because I suspect that these vessels cannot be adapted for the carrying of helicopters.

The other worry about these boats is the question of their speed and manoeuvre-ability as a single-screw ship. For example, they will look rather silly trying to chase some of the Soviet trawlers, which I believe are capable of something like two knots more than ours are. Their sea-keeping ability is not in question. They have been likened to the policeman on the beat, but without a helicopter I suggest we are talking about a somewhat blind policeman, or certainly a policeman who has not got his bicycle available.

Do we imagine that these few ships scattered about on the ocean will act as a serious deterrent to trespassers? Certainly their range of visual acquisition of information will be very limited by the lack of helicopter equipment, and I think it is fair to say that these shortcomings were well illustrated last year when there was a fire on the Norwegian oil rig. On that occasion the tug HMS "Reward", which had approximately the same performance as the Jura class boats, took 32 hours to get to the rig, and of course what it could do was limited again by not having a helicopter.

Indeed if we wanted armed trawlers, might we not have obtained both quicker and cheaper results by converting some of the trawlers which regrettably are being made redundant because of what is happening to our fishing fleet? Then we come to the four Kingfisher or Bird class patrol boats about which I have had correspondence with the noble Lord through the columns of Hansard. These are described in the letter he wrote to me as, general purpose vessels designed for patrol and fishery protection tasks in coastal and inshore waters". From what I hear, I suspect that the less we say about these boats, the better. They are 190 ton vessels with a speed in the region of 18 to 20 knots and they are reputed to be costing £1 million each.

We may continue to be unenlightened on the actualities of this situation, but what is admitted is that the first boat was delivered 18 months late and the remainder will be two years behind schedule. So during the time that we have ordered five armed trawlers, of which we have had one delivered for a sum of £15 million, the Mexicans, who for some time have had a 200 mile EEZ, have taken delivery from yards in the Clyde of 21 Azteca class boats which cost them about the same amount as we are paying for our armed trawlers.

Now we must be careful. These are 130 ton boats, capable of something in the region of 20 to 24 knots, which were originally envisaged for use in the Gulf of Mexico, but I understand that the Mexicans have been so pleased with the performance of these boats and their sea-keeping qualities that they are considering (if they have not already done so) ordering another 40 which they intend to use on the Pacific Coast, where the conditions are rather more severe.

If I may introduce a personal note in the presence of my old colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I spent many miserable hours some 30-odd years ago in the hard-chined MTBs which were available to us at that time and I would therefore have shared doubts about the sea-keeping qualities of this sort of vessel. However, I have now had two years' experience of operating a 35-ft. pilot boat designed by the designer of the Azteca class boats, and I am bound to say that this experience has very much revised my opinion of what the sea-keeping qualities of a very much bigger version of that sort of boat might be.

But there is a much more exciting possibility; that is, the intention to scale up these 112 ft. boats to 165 ft. in a design which is to be known as the Osprey, which will be capable of carrying a helicopter. It has been confidently predicted that boats of this kind could be delivered within two years from these yards on the Clyde, at the rate of one a month, if required, and at a cost in the region of £2 million each, although of course the cost very much depends upon the amount of equipment which is loaded into the boats.

These would be enormously versatile boats which would not only be suitable for patrol work; they could obviously deal with a number of the emergencies that we are trying to cope with, or indeed they could be armed with missiles which, combined with their helicopters, would enable these boats in numbers to challenge the very much larger and more expensive frigate type of boat.

That there is international recognition of the possibilities of this design is borne out by the fact that the Lurssens yard in Germany—who built the E-boats which were generally conceded to be the best vessels available at the time—I understand are interested in building these vessels under licence because they recognise the enormous appeal that boats of this kind would have to many international customers. It is a truism of the defence sales business that it is much more difficult to sell something which has not been ordered by the home Forces.

I want just in passing to ask the noble Lord whether the report recently in the newspaper that a hydrofoil was being ordered for experimental purposes is indeed, true. I am very glad to hear that we are keeping abreast of both hydrofoil and hovercraft development. But I would suggest it would be at least 10 years before we could expect to see a contribution made from either of these kinds of boats, whereas the Osprey type of vessel represents a wholly manageable and predictable development of vessels which have already been proved in practice. So much for the matter of the equipment.

May I briefly refer now to the matter of organisation, and I do so in a genuine spirit of inquiry, because I think this is a difficult matter, to which I hope the Government have given some thought. I think a considerable case could be deployed for not, at least without question, simply assigning a whole host of new jobs to the Navy. The policing role is essentially a very different one from the war role for which the Navy is properly trained and equipped. This point was emphasised to me last night by the commanding officer of a frigate, who said quite simply, "When I am fighting my boat in a war situation, I am tucked away in the bowels of the ship in the operation centre. When I am manoeuvring my vessel in a cod war-type situation, I am doing so from the bridge. The whole situation is fundamentally different".

It is a fact that the United States of American and Norway have chosen what one might call the coastguard pattern for their organisation, clearly because of some of the advantages that they see in terms of easier liaison with the many other civilian organisations which are involved, such as Trinity House, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution the Scottish Office, the Department of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I believe there is something in the region of 20 civilian organisations involved in the issues of controlling the Exclusive Economic Zone. Of course, it may be said that if you set up a sophisticated coastguard, you are duplicating many of the other facilities which you already have for the naval work. This is the kind of issue on which it would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the Government.

There is one other point. I believe one of the considerations in the Norwegian case was that they were anxious to have an intermediate stage in, for example, a possible confrontation between a Soviet trawler and a patrolling vessel before prematurely playing their last card, and having to call in the full, warlike panoply, in our case, the White Ensign. I think there is political advantage, certainly in the present climate in this country in so far as the export of non-warship designated patrol boats would perhaps be rather easier than if they were designated as war vessels. This is quite a serious issue.

The question of the organisation is really a subject worthy of a complete debate to itself; it is quite a large subject. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, whether there is any possibility of producing a discussion paper which rehearses the issues and indicates Government thinking, and which might possibly be the subject of a debate in this House. Again emphasising that it will not be very long before the Exclusive Economic Zone is liable to burst upon an astonished public in this country, I hope he will be able to dispel any suspicion that we may harbour that Government policies on issues of this kind have not been fully thought through.

I hope the noble Lord will be able to dispel all suspicion that the Admiralty still hankers after the days when Lord Cornwallis floated about for two years at a time off the port of Brest during the Napoleonic Wars, because I do seriously hope we have outgrown what we might call, "the battleship mentality". If I am suggesting that mistakes have been made, it is simply to remind the House that it was no less a person than Winston Churchill who said that the great purpose of examining the lessons of history is to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords in this House are grateful to the noble Lord Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, for bringing up this Unstarred Question this evening. If one goes back to a Question asked in October 1975, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, stated in answer that by 1977 we should have 20 ships and four aircraft to police the Exclusive Economic Zone. Perhaps the noble Lord can enlighten us on that a little later. At the same time, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, suggested that possibly the airship or the dirigible might be contemplated as being of use from the point of view of reconnaissance. I believe that the airship industry in this country is making some slow progress. I would have thought that, in the end, a Blimp might do equally as good a job as a Nimrod, and be more economical to run.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, raised the question of hydrofoils from the United States of America. I also read about it in the newspaper with great interest. I realise that in this country we do not have a British hydrofoil at present, but there is a firm in Cowes which is very interested in going into the hydrofoil business, or so I have been given to understand. The firm, which the Minister may know, is called Groves and Guttridge Limited. I have been given to understand that they are very keen on producing a hydrofoil which, rightly or wrongly, they think may be very suitable for the type of operation which is envisaged in the 200-mile limit.

One of the points they raise is that they have a hydrofoil which has what is known as "mechanical incidence control foils" which would be infinitely preferable to the more expensive and highly sophisticated sonic system foil. Would the noble Lord consider going into this in the future? If it was possible for us to build in this country a hydrofoil suitable for this task, it would, I hope, not take 10 years as the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, said. But it would be a very good piece of equipment to export and would bring substantial trade back to the maritime tradesmen of Cowes.

No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, remembers that I have asked before, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, has also raised the matter, about the possibility of having a Coastguard defence force on the lines of that in America and Canada; and the proverbial policeman on the beat came up again. But it is not just a question of having a policeman on a bicycle on a beat. Is he to be in a fast patrol car?

Since I raised this, not all that long ago, I wonder whether the Minister, like myself; reads the Daily Express, where they have had a cartoon for the last few months called "Ocean Interpol". Ocean Interpol, to my mind, even if it is a figment of somebody's imagination, seems very much the sort of force that we should have in Europe. It would be a multinational force, and it would be composed, one would hope, of Member countries of the EEC, and maybe we could talk Norway into it. I think it would take possibly quite a long time to set this up, but I feel that it is a matter that might be worth the Government pursuing with our friends.

In fact, in October 1975 the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, did say that the Government were working on a regional conference involving Holland, Norway, West Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France and Britain; perhaps the Minister could give us any information that may have arisen out of the conference which I believe was held as a result. If we did have an Ocean Interpol force, which would have a variety of ships and aircraft, I am sure it would be a great deterrent to all pirates, illegal fishermen and not least any anarchists who might try not only to hold us to ransom but also the Western World, through the oil rigs in the North Sea and the pipelines, which to this day are still very much our Achilles Heel.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to divert your Lordships' attention from the hardware, but 1 want to come back to what we are talking about, which is the 200-mile EEZ limit. All I have heard, including the explanation by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, of what the Mexicans are ordering in the way of boats and so forth, and what we have failed to do in our own case, only confirms what I have said before in your Lordships' House. Yesterday we had a discussion on the state of the nation, and my noble friend Lord Longford introduced the word "greed" as part of the basic trouble of our time. I can tell your Lordships that there is no greater demonstration of greed that we are seeing demonstrated now in the 200-mile economic zone. Lord Longford said: I do not think anyone can avoid the conclusion that a very large proportion of our economic troubles spring from greed, wherever one happens to locate it. I am not saying that we are, as individuals, any more greedy than we used to be before the war. I am submitting, however, that this greed is proving much more dangerous now and is likely to prove fatal unless it is corrected."—[Official Report, 14/7/76, col. 380.] It seems to me that what we were discussing in the terms of individuals, the greed of people in this country, in the discussion of the state of the nation, is manifestly much more serious and much more aggravated in the case of the international grab. I wonder how many have ever tried to look at the map which demonstrates what 200-mile limits mean. We have the longest coastline in Europe and we are extending that seawards by 200 miles. Taking into consideration the kind of things we are talking about here, a coastline of that length would mean setting up a command such as we had during the war to look after the Western Approaches. This is enormous in terms of the world. We have something over 100 less-developed coastal countries, all of whom have claimed 200 miles and all of whom have got to police those 200 miles in the same terms as we are now debating. If we are greedy enough perhaps we can say: "If we can sell ships to the Mexicans we can sell ships to the Gabonese and any others concerned with their EEZ." This is not the issue.

What are we trying to do? I am told that there is still just a hope that the "exclusive" may be removed from the EEZ; that we will have to accept the 200-mile limit but that somehow or other we will get rid of this obsession of the "exclusive", which means that not only do you have to take on all the responsibility we are talking about now, but you have to attempt to develop the resources which are yours exclusively, and, above all, to the exclusion of world concern for what is happening in that economic zone. We are talking now about the problems of the fishing and so forth, not in terms of what you can catch, but in terms of the whole marine biology, the destruction of which would be disastrous. We are talking here about something which has got out of hand because people have not looked at the map; they have not looked to see what a 200-mile commitment really is. They are simply looking at it as something they can grab; an extension of their own property interests. This is frightening.

I am just about to join forces with the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. This is an international problem. It is not a question of how far you can go on multiplying the constabulary forces of the coastal States, but how far you can multiply ours. How are we going to do it? We are talking about Nimrods, about Blimps. There is only one country in the world at the moment which can look at this adequately, as a 200-mile economic zone, and that is the United States if they use their satellites for that purpose—that is to say, excluding others from taking part. Unless you accept that this is the situation you are going to be faced with areas of a magnitude which have not been contemplated in any constabulary zone at any time in history. It must be an international body.

We must come back to the point where we all started, where I hope we all started, accepting something which is called "the common heritage of mankind". In the early days, before we all got greedy, the common heritage was the seven-tenths of the earth's surface which is covered by water. We tried to think how this resource might give us the opportunity of doing what we so singularly failed to do on land; so to organise ourselves that we can be collectively responsible and not simply try to exploit it at other people's expense. We have lost that common purpose in the 200-miles EEZ. Everybody is grabbing now. I was asked a question about manganese nodules. I think you will find that there will be very little manganese nodules in the 200-mile zone, but there will be a great deal beyond that which will have to be policed by somebody. If we ever get an effective international seabed authority, we will have to provide them with resources to protect the common interest and the exploitation.

I have been frightened of this from the word "go", because if we do not get an international force we are going to have the most fantastic picture; we are going to have a reversion to the middle ages, to the war lords and the private armies. In many cases, the people who are going out to do the exploitation will be big international corporations—that is, when we are talking about development of mineral resources—and they will in fact be providing their own oceanic marine Securicor. We are going to see a fantastic multiplication of potentially dangerous forces in the world. The answer is not just to have an Interpol operating between ourselves and the EEC countries. In this instance it is the EEC I am talking about, the Common Market, and not the EEZ. It is beyond even NATO commitments.

We have to think of how we can organise—and I mean this very seriously—the collective security system for the entire ocean régime. We need a system on which you can ultimately rely so that you are not competing and not sneaking. The people who are the aberrants will be dealt with, we hope, by the world at large. But in the meantime just to go on multiplying the EEZ Corps of the world is just plumb crazy. I do not see that you can do it by adding little ships; I do not see that you can do it by adding on your Nimrods, and I do not see that you can do it by having dirigibles. You might see it as a result of a massive effort like putting up the barrage balloons round the 200-miles zone as we had round London during the war. Perhaps that might represent something which would define the limits which are not limits at all. The 200-miles limits are purely imaginary lines which you have to try to enforce by compulsory measures, by police measures.

Those of us who are concerned about the sea are not only asking for the policeman on the beat; we are asking for genuine inspection, so that people will be constrained not to abuse the sea. If we follow through on the Single Negotiating Text of the Law of the Sea Conference and apply the 200-miles limit, I do not see people carrying out these obligations. The obligations that they would have to accept if they get a 200-miles limit would be: the provision of hydrographic facilities; they have to protect the navigational aids and other installations: protect the cables and pipelines. They have to conserve living resources and permit the free passage of migrant fishes and not just the ones they are catching, or intruders are trying to catch. They have to prevent pollution. They have to prevent the transport of slaves; they have to prevent piracy; they have to prevent the illicit traffic of drugs and psycho-tropic substances, and prevent un-authorised broadcasts. That is a big job, whatever transport you provide them with.

This is the commitment. Is it not manifestly much more satisfactory that we should be looking at this as a collective effort, and not as an attempt just to defeat and reproduce everywhere in the world this kind of thing which we realise is inadequate? We are talking as a naval Power as was, a naval Power which cannot, in terms of your Lordships' House, find even the vessels to start doing the job. We are not even on the job. We have not even started.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question? He advocates having an international organisation to control all the oceans of the world so as to have peace and fair play on the oceans. Does the noble Lord realise that if you look at the record of the United Nations they have not exactly operated, as they were originally intended to operate, for the peace of the world? Does the noble Lord really think that on the oceans, which are, after all, three times as great in area as the land, an international organisation can ensure fair play, no squabbles and peace?


My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord is, "Yes". The fact is that what we are looking at is our failures; at the failure of the nation States who have looked at their problems in terms of the historical land situation. We hoped that the oceans would provide a second chance. We are losing ground, and the noble Viscount may be right; we have lost the ground by now. Maybe there is no hope; there is no way in which you can construct a genuine international body. But the international body we hoped to see, and I shall hope to see, was something which would come de novo from the challenge of the situation. We were dealing with almost a tabula rasa situation in terms of international law, in which you could start to create the real instruments of international co-operation, and, hopefully, we might have done so.

5.35 p.m.

The Earl of GLASGOW

My Lords, it is a rare privilege to follow, if I may say it plainly, my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. As a simple sailor I shall not try and follow his extremely interesting argument. In fact, it was only last night that was persuaded to speak today. Therefore, if I have not had time to do all the homework I should have wished, I crave your Lordships' indulgence. Nevertheless, I believe that the Question posed by my noble friend Lord Strathcona is of major importance to our defences, and I also have a personal interest.

It must be ten years ago now, during the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation, that in a defence debate in this House I implored Her Majesty's Government to consider laying down a small, tough, unsophisticated and comparatively cheap class of ship for the Royal Navy. The idea was reinforced by the spectacle of half-a-dozen pirates in a motor launch, or even a sampan, being pursued up an extremely tricky river in Borneo by a very expensive modern frigate. By that time we had already had one cod war and we have had two more since. We are now faced with the possibility of policing a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone, the protection of our fishing fleets, and the defence of oil and gas rigs around our coasts. All too late the Government have decided to act.

As has been shown in the recent cod war, modern frigates are quite unsuitable for these tasks except in the support role. The modern frigate is not much smaller than the light cruiser of another era, but it is immensely more powerful and enormously more expensive. It is thin skinned and designed, quite rightly, for a conventional war at sea should such ever occur again. I should like to add to my noble friend's tribute to the captains of the frigates in the cod war. It was an impossible task they were asked to do, and they did it extremely well and with great skill. It was very difficult indeed. The peacetime role which I have described requires something smaller and tougher and cheaper, so that we can have plenty of them.

My own assessment of the most important requirements for these new ships should be a strong hull, good sea-keeping qualities, and a long endurance. Their armament I would leave to the experts. It would appear that the new Island class fulfil some of these requirements, but I would ask the noble Lord who is replying whether he considers 16 knots maximum to be enough. I should prefer 25. In addition, I think these ships should be capable of carrying a helicopter, which would be able to land on oil rigs as well as on the parent ship and provide reconnaissance as well as possibly an offensive capability. I think also that these ships should be so designed that they could be incorporated with anti-submarine equipment in war, and he used as a supplement to convoy escorts.

I am very unhappy about the new Kingfisher or Bird class, but I will not comment on them at this time except to say that it gives me pleasure to see the names of some of the old Yangtse gunboats, with which I served for two years in the middle 1930s, coming back into service. I think it is most important that, before we go firm on whatever ship we decide to build for this purpose, all the possibilities we have heard today should be looked at: the larger version of the Azteca, the hydrofoil, and many others.

As regards the question of control and organisation which has briefly been touched upon, I should naturally prefer to see it left in the hands of the Royal Navy, but I see political advantages in some other arrangement. To sum up, it seems to me essential that we should get this new class of ship right, even if we have to make do with second best for a period. I await with interest the noble Lord's reply.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, if ever there was something which was not a Party matter, I assume that it is this. Therefore, I feel quite happy about associating myself with everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, in raising it. Let us consider for a moment whether it is enough to think of the 200-mile EEZ as that which we have to defend. I believe that we shall have to look wider. I have seen it maintained that there are 23 different jurisdictions for different purposes which we shall have to defend, either now or in the future, as well as the EEZ. I should like briefly to enumerate them to the House.

First, there are the inshore waters, which we all know. Then, there are the territorial waters of 12 miles, which are slightly different in international law. Beyond those, there are the exclusive British fishing limits which we expect will exist within the EEZ. Mr. Hattersley has claimed 50 miles for those and that is another frontier. Beyond that, there will be the European Community fishing limits. They are now asking for 200 miles in the Commission. There will be a report from one of your Lordships' Committees in a couple of weeks' time. That is already four or five. Then there will be whatever is left of the North-East Atlantic Fishery Commission limits. I do not know whether that organisation will continue after the EEC has taken its official fishery zone. Then there is the British Exclusive Economic Zone limit itself, which is the subject of Lord Strathcona's Question.

Then there will probably be the British Continental Shelf limits which, in some cases, will be rather further out than 200 miles at the edge of the Shelf, or maybe at the edge of the slope or even of the rise. That has not been settled. There may be a British pollution control frontier. That probably already exists under the Act of 1972 taken through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. There may be a British-based anadromous fish control zone. Salmon which spawn in British rivers are to be found thousands of miles out at sea, and some people maintain that there should be a British responsibility wherever they may be. Alternatively, it might be Canadian, according to which side of the Atlantic the fish start from.

Then there is a kind of disorganised, ink-blot pattern of security zones drawn at 500 metres radius round each of the oil installations in the North Sea and that will come to the Celtic Sea and the Western Approaches. There will be artificial islands springing up which will generate no territorial waters but which will presumably require another ink-blot pattern of security zones around them. They will carry waste disposal facilities, for instance, and nuclear generating plants. The Dutch are already building these. That is another type of frontier for defence. There is already the pipeline protection scheme such as it is, the existence of which I take leave to doubt. There will be dredging areas where particular dredging techniques are permitted and others are not: somebody will have to police that. There will be no-trawling zones under the fisheries control protection scheme of the Community, if we get one; and there will be different zones in which types of gear, catch and vessel are or are not permitted to operate at different times. All these will be part of the fisheries control and each will look a little different on the map of control duties.

There will be dumping grounds for waste materials, each with its own permitted list and prohibited list of materials which may be dumped and each of which will have to be policed. There will be compulsory pilotage areas. I believe that there is no doubt that in no time at all the present voluntary scheme in the Channel will give way to a compulsory rule of the road. Also, as I was arguing in the House recently, there may be special rules and routes for vessels carrying dangerous cargoes, such as nuclear materials and liquid natural and petroleum gases.

Within each of these very precise areas or volumes of hydrospace, there will have to be a different set of rules to be administered, if necessary by force, if there is an attempt to break them. What have we before us as a proposal to keep the peace and maintain the law in all these 23 different types of regulated area? We have, as we all know, the five Jura boats and the four aeroplanes which are committed. Before starting on them, I should like to draw the attention of the House and the Government to the absence of any underwater control except for sonar surveillance. There is on the market already a French device called "Moana III", and there are others of American manufacture. These are incredible little things which contain three people and can behave as mini-submarines. They walk about the bottom and have pliers and drills and power tools sticking out of them. They have been built by the oil companies for submarine repair work, but they are also perfect offensive weapons if one happens to want to destroy an oil installation without being detected. Their presence would be hard to detect by sonar. They can get away fairly quickly. It seems to me that there would be a case, given the existence of these potential offensive weapons, for the procurement of the same thing as a defensive weapon. They are, in effect, a kind of new sea-bottom tank which we see growing up around us and I do not believe that the Government have thought about this yet.

I turn now to the ships and the areoplanes. The trouble about the Juras, as has already been said, is of course their speed. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, will remember the bitter paradox of the Short 45-knot motor gunboats in the last war. I served in them and I believe that he did too. There was a great choice before us: if we carried enough armament to hurt the enemy, we could not catch him; if we remained light enough to catch the enemy, we could not hurt him when we did. It was personnel policy to try to keep officers and ratings rotating between the two different types of boat in order that they should get roughly equal shares of the different kinds of demoralisation which ensued. It was my bad luck to spend my whole time in one of the under-armed boats which could catch the enemy. They had a top speed of 48 knots. However, when we had caught him there was absolutely nothing we could do except to stay there long enough to satisfy honour and to proclaim our courage and then get the hell out of it as quickly as we could, passing on the way our colleagues in the more heavily armed vessels—they had two-inch guns—who were not going to get anywhere near the enemy at all.

It seems to me that the Juras are condemned to something of the same fate as I put up with during those awful years, with a cruising speed of 12 knots and a maximum speed of 16 knots, when most of the large modern factory trawlers which the Russians, the Poles and the Japanese are likely to deploy have a maximum speed of 20 knots. They are simply not going to get there. As we think we know, though we await confirmation, the Juras will have no helicopter so as to be able to do something about it when they fail to catch the enemy.

Can we compare our effort with the Norwegian effort, and can the Government compare the costs of the two? Here we are, with four aeroplanes and five Jura boats: the Norwegians already have three ships and are commissioning seven, making a total of ten. These ships have a cruising speed of 15 knots and a maximum speed of 25 knots, so they will be able to catch the big trawlers. Moreover, these ships are to carry helicopters, unlike the Juras. The Norwegians are also ordering eight of the appropriate kind of aircraft for air surveillance, compared to our four.

Norway is a very much smaller country than we are, and though I believe that it is right to say that its oil zone in the North Sea is somewhat larger than ours, it is not all that much larger and its population and wealth are smaller. Norway's programme has a capital cost of £115 million, including what they already have. That will be the total from scratch in relation to the ships and the aeroplanes I have mentioned. The annual operating cost of their programme will be £11½ million. Can the Government tell us the comparable figures for ours? It would be of extreme interest to know what a much larger and wealthier country is prepared to spend, and to know the proportion of cost to the number of ships and aeroplanes in each case.

Lastly, on the question of organisation—the Navy or Coastguard, as one might say—I think I am a partisan of a Coastguard type solution. I say this not only from the well taken point about it being easier to export civilian boats in these days in the current political climate, and it being more defensible, but also because it is less frightening to everybody, especially to trawlers, and it is less of an insult to them to be chased off by a civilian ship than by a warship. This is less likely to give rise to diplomatic tensions. I do not think that the Navy need worry about the personnel implications of this because one could perfectly well have an integrated career structure between the Navy and the new economic protection force (or whatever we like to call it), and people could oscillate in and out at different ranks during their career. The training functions would be very largely the same, only they would wear slightly different cap badges and have the advantage of "civilianity" over the disadvantages of "militality".

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a very interesting and well-informed debate about a matter of great national importance. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, said that he has set out to probe the Government's thinking on the problem stated in his Question. The Question he asked relates rather specifically to hardware, and therefore perhaps my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder will forgive me if I do not plunge too deeply into the more philosophical aspects of the situation which he has raised.

What I hope to do this evening, in a comparatively short speech, is to set forth the Government's present approach to the issues which have exercised noble Lords today, and I shall attempt to use this as an opportunity to answer some of the points made. I cannot answer all of them. But if the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, will accept this as an undertaking, I would ask him to regard this as the first chapter of a discussion paper which he would like to have, and which quite clearly your Lordships would like to have, in view of the quite significant contribution to what is basically a minor debate. I have found it a most interesting and enlightening one.

If we are to talk about hardware, I should like to say a few words about fishery protection. The Royal Navy has been engaged on this work since the 16th century, and the Fishery Protection Squadron is the oldest serving squadron in the Royal Navy. Nelson himself served in the squadron in 1781, which puts the matter into perspective. The main task of this squadron is to look after the interests of British fishermen, and whatever circumstances emerge in the future, this will continue to be the object of its existence. I should like to assure the House that the resources not only of the Royal Navy, but of the Royal Air Force, too, will be available to enforce the new fisheries régime.

In order to illuminate my argument at an early stage, I should like to make this one point, and it might to a certain degree answer the point made by my noble friend Lord Kennet. He raised the question of the difference between the Norwegian attitude to the problems we are facing jointly and our own attitude. It is tempting to conclude that the British and Norwegian requirements coincide, but it is important to remember that although they face similar problems offshore they are not able to call on the kind of back-up forces that are available to us. They have neither comparable frigate force nor the numbers of shore-based helicopters that we have. We shall come back to this question of back-up forces later. But since they have not got these back-up forces, it is more sensible for them to invest in a more sophisticated offshore vessel. But we have those backup forces, and they have this important part to play in our strategy of defending our interests throughout this very wide area of the seas around our country.

The Government are determined to secure a satisfactory revision of the European Economic Community's Common Fisheries Policy to ensure that the industry will be in a position to take advantage of the new opportunities which will arise in waters around our coast. We have made our future requirements clear to members of the Community, especially our need for a reserved coastal belt of not less than 12 miles everywhere and extending in certain parts to 50 miles. I should add that this would cover the coastal areas of particular importance to the United Kingdom. We shall also make it clear that we attach considerable importance to early agreement on the conditions under which Britain and other Community countries might continue to fish in the Exclusive Economic Zones of third countries, and the arrangements for phasing out fishing by some third countries in the future EEZ of the Community.

However, until the final shape of the revised Common Fisheries Policy starts to emerge, and until the likely outcome of Community negotiations with third countries can be properly assessed, the exact nature and extent of the new protection task cannot be fully defined. Nevertheless, I do not think that the decisions that the Government took as long ago as 1974, to prepare for the eventual introduction of 200-mile fishing limits, will prove to be very far off the mark. I shall describe those preparations in a moment, but they are relevant also to the protection of oil and gas installations on our Continental Shelf, and I must first say a few words about that task.

Noble Lords are well aware of the measures taken by the Government to protect these installations. The measures that have been taken will not, of course, be affected by the introduction of a British 200-mile EEZ. The measures are based on a policy of deterrent patrolling around the installations themselves and the surveillance of the whole area by ships and aircraft. HMS "Reward" and HMS "Jura" undertake deterrent patrols and other ships of the Royal Navy regularly pass through the oil and gas fields. RAF Nimrod, Shackleton, Vulcan and Buccaneer aircraft fly over each installation area at least once a week. The aircraft provide the overall reconnaissance and the ships provide an on the spot presence. Response to any particular incident on or around the installations, including action requiring explosive ordnance disposal teams, or the deployment of further ships and aircraft (including helicopters), or Royal Marines forces can be mounted at short notice. Regular exercises are held to test the arrangements for protecting the installations and dealing with accidental damage.

I now return to the additional forces that the Government are providing for the protection of installations and for fishery protection duties. These were announced in another place on 11th February last year. The measures consist of the acquisition during the course of next year of five new Island class ships and the provision from 1st January next year of four Royal Air Force Nimrod surveillance aircraft. The five new ships are of course additional to the Fishery Protection Squadron's present inshore force of 10 ships and the force of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland of five fishery protection vessels. Three of the latter are suitable for distant water patrols, including HMS "Jura", which is currently on loan from that Department to the Royal Navy.

By the end of 1977, therefore, we shall have a force of about 20 ships, and these, together with the Nimrods, should prove to be adequate for the protection of our fisheries under an internationally agreed regime, and for the protection of our offshore installations, and for the other tasks that go to make up the offshore tapestry. The first of the new Island class ships, HMS "Jersey", should be operational on 1st January 1977; the second, HMS "Orkney", was launched on 29th June of this year. There has been criticism from some quarters—and from your Lordships' House—regarding the speed of the Island class ships. which as noble Lords will know are designed on the lines of HMS "Jura". These criticisms have been answered on more than one occasion by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy in another place.

In 1974—and perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, will accept our flash of vision—we foresaw the need for reasonably-priced ships with the accent on sea-keeping qualities and endurance, rather than high-speed and sophisticated weaponry, capable of carrying out sustained patrols in all weathers. A number of arguments have been put forward—and they have been put forward tonight—in support of the use of fast patrol boats, which have proved attractive to some other countries and have indeed proved successful; but noble Lords must be aware that fast patrol boats are not suitable for all-weather patrols, specially in the North Sea in winter, because of the inevitable construction limitations of the type of craft and because after a short period of operation crew fatigue becomes a critical factor. We want our ships to be where the action is, not sheltering from rough seas, to take advantage of the situation reports provided by Nimrod all-weather flights.

Let me remind the House that their role is that of identifying and confirming the existence of a threat to our rights and interests, and keeping abreast of what is happening on the spot; and, certainly, so far as the protection of offshore installations is concerned, a very important part of their task is to act as the eyes and ears of the maritime headquarters, who can then determine the appropriate response to a threat. It is not necessarily their role to deal themselves with the threat. That is why we do not allocate such expensive vessels as frigates to the task. Even they cannot be equipped to deal with every possible contingency.

May I go back at this point, my Lords, to a point I made earlier? The difference between ourselves and Norway is that we have a substantial back-up force, and in the Nimrods we have reconnaissance aircraft of the highest sophistication and the highest efficiency. The rather slow ships that are capable of remaining on station throughout the worst weather are indeed, my Lords, the local policemen that we have talked about, but the local policeman has a wireless set. He is not tied to 16 knots; he can communicate with maritime headquarters at the speed of light. That is really the role of these ships. We have these extremely sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft—not only the Nimrod, but all the large number of aircraft that pass over the general area—we have the local policeman on the beat in the form of the rather slow but very seaworthy ships; and we have a major back-up force which can be deployed by maritime headquarters, be it with helicopters, marines borne in helicopters, frigates carrying helicopters and the rest.

My Lords, that is really the answer to the question of the helicopter. If it was felt in a certain situation that a helicopter was required, then a helicopter-carrying ship would be available to take it to that point. It is not necessary for the Island class and the other ships I have mentioned in this particular situation to carry helicopters themselves. A helicopter-carrying ship can always be available to assist them if necessary. Having said that, may I assure noble Lords that we have not cast aside new ideas. As my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence said as long ago as March last year in another place, if experience demands or circumstances recommend some changes of plan, we shall be willing to consider them. That is the case today. I would add that the type of ships that the Royal Navy may require in the future, including those for offshore protection work, is under continuous review.

At this point, perhaps noble Lords might wish for me to comment on one or two suggestions made in the course of our discussion. First, may I touch upon the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, that, instead of having specialist ships within the Royal Navy, we might in fact have an enlarged coastguard force. May I say that the idea of setting up a maritime authority alone on the lines of the US Coastguard is not attractive to us, not only because it would involve substantial additional resources but largely because it would upset what are considered to be existing satisfactory methods of meeting the country's needs. In any case, close liaison with the Armed Forces will continue to be necessary, and it would be wasteful and not conducive to efficient operations if the Government were to establish a separate command and support structure outside and additional to those already existing in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Besides, the RNLI and the Coastguard are but. two examples of the organisations which mariners world-wide hold in truly high esteem. It would not advance our capabilities offshore if these and other bodies were allowed to be swallowed up.

Turning for a moment to hydrofoils, the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, mentioned hydrofoils and suggested that their application was some years in the future. I agree with that, but the Government are naturally keen to evaluate the potential of hydrofoils to undertake offshore tasks, and for this reason we have been considering the possibility of hiring a hydrofoil next winter. Contrary to newspaper reports, however, no firm arrangements have yet been made. Obviously, if it is to be effective, the hydrofoil has got to operate in the same harsh conditions as the Island type boats; hence the testing next winter, if it should take place. I think I have also answered the question on helicopters by saying that helicopters will be available on ships if they are necessary. May I say that I am certain that my honourable friend the Under-Secretary for the Navy will take note of the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, about Blimps. It is an interesting suggestion.


My Lords, may I interupt the noble Lord if he is leaving the subject of helicopters? I have not had the time to look up one of the reference books, but I think it is said there that the Jura class are being fitted with helicopters. Is the noble Lord saying categorically that that is not intended?


My Lords, as I understand it, it is not intended that the Jura class should be fitted with helicopters, but if I am wrong I will inform the House.

I should like to assure the noble Lord who opened the debate, and other noble Lords who have spoken today, that if and when there is an EEZ to police around British shores, or our fishing limits are extended to 200 miles, we shall have the equipment to carry out the policing task effectively, to ensure that our rights in the zone are properly safeguarded. The Government are confident that they have taken all the necessary steps to ensure that we shall not be caught out, and they have also been at pains to secure this preparedness at modest cost to the taxpayer. What we shall have, my Lords, is a mix of protection vessels and aircraft and ancillary equipment, providing a range of capabilities which, between them, will be adequate to meet all likely demands. Furthermore, we have been keeping this matter under continuous review, and shall continue to do so.


My Lords, can the Minister tell us anything about the cost of the programme?


No, my Lords, not at this stage. If my noble friend wishes to put down a Question, I shall endeavour to answer it.