HL Deb 05 June 1980 vol 409 cc1590-2

3.17 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why it was necessary to buy from Italy seven Oto Melara 76 mm. dual purpose guns to equip five new patrol ships for service in Hong Kong.

The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of DEFENCE (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal)

My Lords, the Oto Melara 76/62 mm gun system was selected for the Hong Kong patrol craft as the only gun available in the required time-scale which could meet the performance requirement agreed with the Hong Kong Government. It is a standard NATO mounting already in service with seven NATO countries, is of proven reliability and is easily maintained. In addition it has already been successfully linked with the United Kingdom-manufactured Sperry Sea Archer which has been selected as the fire control system for the craft.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he consider it rather unfortunate that we could not make them in this country in the time required? Will he also be kind enough to tell me the cost of these guns and who will transport them to Hong Kong?


My Lords, it is, of course, unfortunate when any foreign manufacturer proves to be better able to meet a British requirement than a British manufacturer. I can assure the noble Baroness that we carried out an extremely careful examination of all the possible British equipments before going for this one. As I have already pointed out to her, the fire control system and the radar are made in this country. On cost, the total system is of the order of £2 million for each complete equipment, of which the gun accounts for about £900,000. The first vessel is intended to be built in this country and so presumably the gun will be carried out on it. I do not know where the other ships will be built.


My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that there would be very considerable support for the motivation of the Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers?—while, of course, appreciating what the Minister has said about availability and also the relativity of production as between Italy and this country, as he has explained. Could he confirm—I am sure noble Lords would like to know the answer to this—whether there was the closest consultation on this matter, as on others, between the Hong Kong Government and that of the United Kingdom, and particularly that the views of the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Murray MacLehose, were given the very greatest weight possible?


My Lords, I can confirm both aspects about which the noble Lord has asked me. It has to be said that the choice of the type of weapon is not without contention both in Hong Kong and in this country, but we have maintained a very close liaison with them and, in so far as one can reconcile views, I think that has been done.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister to say why the Hong Kong Government require these additional patrol vessels? What is the purpose? Is it to deal with illegal immigration from China, or in the event of an emergency can these vessels be used for combative purposes?


My Lords, the immediate requirement is, of course, concentrated on the illegal immigrant problem. The ships being used there at the present time are mostly very old; they are the old ton-class minesweepers which are 15 or 16 years old and one rather unreliable high-speed vessel. The equipment is required partly to enhance and replace the existing ageing vessels. It is also judged that it is necessary in any potential confrontation to be able to give a good account of yourself in any vessel you might need in those waters.