HL Deb 06 May 1981 vol 420 cc187-208

6.42 p.m.

Baroness Vickers rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have had their attention drawn to the report of the Hydrographer of the Navy 1979 on their one-hundredth anniversary.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. First, may I thank the members of the hydrographic profession, and particularly Admiral Haslam, who has done such a magnificent job over many years, and also his staff, both overseas and at Taunton. Having visited them on several occasions I have always found them hard at work and enthusiastic and I wish them every success in the future.

The first formal annual report published by the Hydrographer of the Navy consisted of five pages and gave details of the surveying and charting activities in 1879. In addition to information concerning the hydrographic surveys carried out in many parts of the world it reported the following: The Hydrographic Department during the past year has issued 205 notices to mariners, an increase indicative of much activity in the interests of commerce all over the globe". Also that: Sixty-two new plates of charts and plans have been published; many of these represent original work, and all may be considered of immediate interest to seamen. One hundred and ninety-two thousand and sixty charts have been printed during the financial year for Her Majesty's Service and for the use of the general public". That, my Lords, was 100 years ago.

The year 1979 marks the centenary of the first official Report on Admiralty Surveys by the Hydrographer of the Navy. The first Hydrographer of the Navy was appointed on the 12th August 1795 and from the mid-1800s the Royal Geographical Society's Journal published information similar to that contained in The report by Captain F. J. 0. Evans, who was then the Hydrographer of the Navy, of the work performed under the direction of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty during the year 1879, in the examination and charting of the seaboard in various parts of the globe", which was published for the first time as a Parliamentary Paper.

It is interesting to note the state of activity by the Hydrographic Department 100 years ago. Seventy—two officers and 600 crew were employed afloat in 12 ships, compared with 41 surveying officers and 726 officers and crew in 13 ships in 1979. In 1879 there were few other countries capable of conducting hydrographic surveys and Captain Evans gives special mention to the work of HMS "Fawn" in the Sea of Marmara and of HMS "Sylvia", in her sixth consecutive year surveying the coast of Japan; of HMS "Magpie" off the coast of China and of HMS "Alert" in the Magellan Straits. Other units were stationed—and this is a long time ago, my Lords—in the West Indies, off Newfoundland, in Fiji, New Guinea and New Britain, Queensland and South Australia, while at that time only two were employed in home waters. In 1979, following the withdrawal of four ships from the contract surveys of the Gulf of Oman in February, all but one of the 13 units were employed in home waters.

During 1879, 62 new chart plates were produced and 2,040 chart plates were amended; 205 notes to mariners were issued and 5 new volumes of sailing directions were published as well as "the usual tide tables and light lists", while 192,060 charts were printed for issue to Her Majesty's ships and for sale to the public. This year's report will, I think, show that the excellent service already being provided to Her Majesty's Fleet and to the international mercantile marine in 1879 is still being maintained. Nevertheless, industrial unrest, among other reasons, made 1979 a difficult and sometimes frustrating year for the whole Hydrographic Department, afloat and ashore.

As a result of the special measures approved last year there were 90 hydrographic officers borne on 1st January 1980 against an allowed bearing of 92. It will take some time for the 13 general list and supplementary list seamen officers recruited during the year to gain the experience needed to be fully effective. However, there has also been a welcome improvement in the recruitment of all types of officers and the ships are benefiting from the presence on board of a wide variety of officers borne for sea experience who, together with the trainees, will require some diversion of effort to the supervision of their training but can also take some of the non-surveying administrative load off the shoulders of the experienced hydrographic officers.

Sales of charts and nautical publications increased by 4 per cent. and 6 per cent. respectively over the disappointing levels of 1978, as I have just mentioned. However, the number of charts sold was seriously affected by an industrial dispute at the department in Taunton during the summer. Civil servants were instructed by their executive to withdraw their labour, with the result that, although the rest of the work continued almost normally, no charts could be reprinted either as replenishment of stock or as modernised replacement charts. Fortunately, the issue of notices to mariners and transport of both incoming material and despatched supplies from stock continued normally, and I think we must congratulate those members of the institution at Taunton for carrying on with that work in very difficult circumstances.

Production rose to a peak of 317 chart-runs in the week ending 9th September and less than 200 charts were not available by mid-September. Early in October there was a resumption of normal four-colour printing and the replacement of the 773 temporary two-colour charts. Completely normal services were due to be available by the end of February 1980. Efforts made during the year to increase the availability of products throughout the world have been very successful. They have resulted in the establishment of 30 new chart agencies in this country and 12 new ones overseas, to bring the total number of outlets to 198 agents in 44 countries. Only the major, "A" class, agents are required to hand-correct their stocks of charts, but the "BP" class agents usually have a quick turn-round from the "A" class agents.

In a debate in December 1975 the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, drew attention to the recently published Hydrographic Study Group and the need to devote more resources to the surveys of the United Kingdom continental shelf and similar areas overseas for which the United Kingdom is responsible. Despite the agreement by all parties in both Houses of the need, interdepartmental wrangling over who should pay has not only not yet produced any extra effort but has led to a diminution of effort available, which I think is very regrettable.

Whereas in 1975 there were four ocean survey ships, four coastal survey vessels and five inshore survey craft, there are now only three ISC as two have been paid off recently. Although additional civilian staff were recruited in the years 1975 to 1979, there has been a restriction on recruitment of staff to replace those retiring from Taunton and numbers are now back to the levels of several years ago. I think this point is very important. This is despite the fact, which I wish to emphasise, that the products of Taunton (charts and books) provide an income more than adequate to pay for the civilian staff required.

Although the last Administration announced in 1979 their intention to seek tenders for three new CSVs and to place some work out to commercial contract while these three new ships were being built, the present Administration has only agreed to go ahead with ordering one. There is still no decision about further vessels and no work has yet been put in hand. I hope the noble Earl is going to give me some good reply. Perhaps I should mention here that Spain is already building one of these ships, as is Italy.

Study of Plate A in the 1979 Report shows how many important areas have still not been surveyed, such as the traffic separation routes off Casquets (where new routes are now being proposed), Lyme Bay, Bristol Channel, Scillies, Pentland Firth, Minches, et cetera. Although, I am glad to say, no accidents have yet been directly attributed to the bad state of surveys, the risk increases with the passage of time. Each year new shoals are reported, for example, Whale Rock between St. Kilda and the Outer Hebrides. This was reported in 1979. New wrecks are being reported each month but there are still more to be looked for. The number they are looking for is 14,000 wrecks.

It is necessary to remember the overseas areas for which the United Kingdom is responsible, and to ensure that British goods can both leave and reach port at both ends of their journey. The surveying flotilla and British commercial survey companies are capable of leading the world but they need to be given the chance to expand. New and automated equipment is needed, both ashore and afloat, to speed up the work. We are not in a position, as I quite understand, to squander money, but I do plead that we spend a little more on the things which this organisation is doing, which it can do well, and which will benefit so many facets of life.

The HSG Report put the total capital cost of providing four new CSVs and three new ISCs as £24.5 million over the seven years 1975–76 to 1981–82. No money has been spent yet on any new ships and the recommended programme is many years behind. Costs of providing new ships have really increased dramatically, and of course we must realise that the longer the programme is delayed the more the costs increase. Yet the British shipbuilders need work and there will be a great demand for such ships worldwide for exploration of offshore areas.

In the 1979 report at page 2 the Hydrographer stated: During 1980 it is hoped to conduct trials with a 27 metre hovermarine solid side-wall cushion craft". By May 1981 not only have these trials not taken place but it appears that the comparatively small sum required (reported to be £50,000) is unlikely to be made available yet awhile. At a time when the Prime Minister is urging greater exports of ships and other vehicles, this is an incomprehensible delay. Offshore oil surveys are taking place abroad at an ever increasing pace and deeper draught ships are navigating in harbour approaches. A craft of the hovermarine type has the great advantage of high speed transit to survey grounds, about three times that of conventional—hulled vessels. At present, of the numerous orders for survey craft from at least 10 countries, not one has come to Britain.

Unless remedial action is taken at a very early date, action which includes the resolution of the interdepartmental wrangling over financial responsibility, the ordering of suitable ships and craft as well as adequate provision for civilian staff at Taunton, troubled times will be near at hand. A single disaster such as the "Amoco Cadiz" affair could wipe out a large proportion of the notional savings made by deferring decisions.

Finally, I should like to give the number of ships. In 1939 ocean survey ships numbered 11, and in 1981 4, and it was recommended there should be another 4 by 1975. With regard to coastal survey vessels, in 1939 there were none, 4 in 1981; inshore survey craft, none in 1939 and 3 in 1981. The total recommended is four survey ships, eight coastal ships and eight inshore craft. The other point I should like to make is that in 1939 the average draught was 32 feet and in 1981 it is 65 feet, and the safe diving depths of submarines in 1939 was only 300 feet and now it is 1,500 feet.

So I do think it is necessary to take a very good look at this report, particularly when I mention that at the present time the Russians have 127 survey ships and they are not only doing a very good job but also probably taking away some of our profits from the charts, et cetera, that we sell. I hope that the noble Earl who is going to reply will be able to give me some really good facts which will help the people at Taunton and give them further incentive to carry on their excellent work.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Ritchie-Calder

My Lords, we have to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for this naval occasion and for giving us the opportunity to discuss the critical and indeed crucially and vitally important role of our hydrographic service. As she has pointed out in drawing our attention to the report, it marks the centenary of the first report of the Hydrographer. As we know, the hydrographic service in this country dates back to 1795, and was set up to cope with the enormous accumulation of material which Captain Cook brought back and to turn it to account. Also in the year '79 we had seen the great adventurous voyage of the "Challenger" and what it discovered, and the problems which it has created for us today in terms of the exploitation of the seabed. In fact we have for 200 years led the entire world in hydrography and prestigiously still do so. We want to keep it that way, not vaingloriously, but as a continuing contribution to the international safeguards of the sea. Those safeguards, as the report shows, are now at grave—indeed very grave—risk. The Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea (ACOPS) of which I am Chairman, is desperately aware of the need not only for proficiently maintaining the Hydrographic Service but for enhancing and expanding its capabilities. Two of my predecessors as chairmen—the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and my noble friend Lord Shackleton—are taking part and my other major predecessor was my noble friend Lady White. We are all here as an eloquent proof of our awareness and concern about the limiting of this essential service.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, has pointed out, the report is a most impressive document—a testimonial to the hardihood and efficiency of the men of the sea-going survey ships and to the expertise of the shore-based services. The detailed accounts, including the humanitarian rescue of hundreds of civilians in the Iranian upheavals, belong in the heroic category of courage and endurance. But it is also a very disquieting report. The service is at hazard and consequently the ships of the world are at hazard. The reproaches—or perhaps I should say the reminders —that we have to offer to the Minister who is to reply are not reserved for this Government. We have repeatedly badgered past Governments to accept the responsibilities imposed by our historic role, but also to be aware of the present dangers to our ships and to our shores.

We, the British, charted the seas of the world to protect our naval and mercantile navies. Our empire contracted, but surely not our commitments. Our navy contracted and so, in across the board economies, did our hydrographic service. It was simply treated—and quite wrongly treated—as an item in the general account of the Navy when it was peculiarly and very particularly important in its own right. It has contracted its size, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, and it suffers from the lack of proper refitment and replacement. There is a manifest need for modern equipment and technological refinements.

The Minister of Defence is responsible for the service but as many of us have argued, in Government housekeeping the civilian Departments of Trade and Industry and the Environment have now as big—and I think a bigger—a stake as defence. And, I would add so do our overseas departments, because as the noble Baroness pointed out we were not only in the general sense but in the particular sense, in our colonial days, responsible for the hydrographic services of those countries and we now find that our ex-dependencies in the third world—and we must bear in mind that they are responsible for the 200-mile economic zone and everything concerned with it—must take over those responsibilities and they are ill-equipped to do so. We are, in those terms, the trustees for a vast and very important service.

The reproach is a general one. Whenever we ask for support for and extension of the Hydrographic Service, individual Ministries say, "We are not responsible" or the Minister of Defence says, "We cannot afford it in terms of our naval commitment". Surely it is not beyond the wit of Government to provide a modus vivendi. It is perfectly clear to most of us that the Department of Trade ought to accept the enormous responsibility because it is now practically the "Marine Department".

As I have said, the report is disturbing. Not only is our fleet of survey vessels inadequate—and, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, it is shrinking—but in modern terms it needs replacement. World events like the political problems of the Gulf, but also economics, have restricted the essential range of activities. That includes, as I have said, the charting of the world at large. Our inshore survey craft need replacement. For modern purposes, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, hovercraft and helicopters are now essential. Can the Minister tell us, for example, what has happened to the coastal survey ship which we were confidently expecting two years ago and which was essential then and is paramountly essential now? And, in passing, perhaps I might ask what has been the input to the Ministry of Defence of the Hydrographic Study Group set up in 1975, of which great things were expected? I do not want to anticipate the noble Lord's answer, but I am pretty sure that it has been ignored.

We know that we are expected to reduce everything to business terms. I point out, as the noble Baroness has done, that the Hydrographic Service has a considerable commercial enterprise in selling charts; but surely far beyond the "stationery"—if I may put it that way—and with our great prestige and reputation for proficiency and our pre-eminent role in this whole field, our expanded hydrographic services which are needed would be in big demand for undertaking the surveys which are indispensable for the big marine enterprises now under way. I am postulating its role in the civil sense as well as in the naval or military sense. Without updated hydrographic services we can expect nothing but recurring disasters—disasters affecting these islands.

ACOPS—the advisory committee—lives with the menace of oil spills of collisions and wrecks and polluted seas and shores. I looked at the hydrographic map of the Admiralty surveys published in the report which we are discussing. It shows the seas around our British coasts which have been fully surveyed to modern standards; areas which have been bathymetrically surveyed but with incomplete investigation of wrecks; areas surveyed by echo-soundings but not on a scale suitable for modern conditions; and lastly areas surveyed by lead line only and lacking definition. That is a very startling map to look at and when one bears in mind the amount of giant tankers and congested shipping traffic then it is a ghastly picture. Where it has been done it has been done very thoroughly. Areas which were recently, in general terms, relatively safe for the kind of craft which might use them, are now being used by very large supertankers with draughts much greater than even the Grand Fleet battleships of a generation ago. I am thinking of the northern approaches to the Shetlands. The noble Baroness has quoted one case which I want to illustrate. I shall quote from the report which says: One new danger was found which was so large that sonar was not needed to detect it. This was named 'Whale Rock' by HMS "Hydra" which confirmed its existence about midway between St. Kilda and the Outer Hebrides. It consists of an extensive patch of rocky outcrops with a least depth of 5.2 metres and general depths of over 50 metres. Although the chart had shown a reported shoal of 8.2 metres and although the whole area was charted clearly as 'unsurveyed', HMS "Hydra" reported seeing several large tankers proceeding through the area". Or again: In 1978 the ships and tonnage lost were the highest ever recorded in peace time. The number of vessels of 100 tons, gross and over lost was 475 compared with 336 in 1977 and the gross tonnage lost was 1,710,813 tons, an increase of some 59 per cent. I would remind your Lordships that it is the job of the Hydrographic Service to locate and determine the wrecks, which of course themselves become dangerous to shipping. This is a very important matter which we neglect at our peril. While priding ourselves on the historic achievements of the Hydrographic Service and admiring the hardihood and competence of those who serve in it today, let us ensure that at least the Hydrographer gets the resources to do his job properly.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I believe that the annual, or nearly annual, debate on the Hydrographer has now reached the point where one has to declare that a state of scandal exists. Let me briefly run through the reasons why. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has just reminded us of the mounting losses. You would think, would you not, that in an age of rapidly advancing technology the seas would become safer for mariners and for coastwise people whose beaches might be polluted? Not a bit of it. It is more dangerous. Year by year, there are greater losses, with the highest losses tonnage—wise, being in 1979; I am not sure whether the figures for 1980 have yet been computed. Does this not suggest that something is wrong?

The size of ships is increasing; that is a truism, for now it is the highest ever. We have already heard the average depth, although I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, probably meant the normal maximum depth of the biggest ships; that was 35 feet just before the war, but now it is 62 feet or 65 feet. Obviously, if we wish the increasing depth and increasing size of ships not to result in increasing losses of ships at sea, we must resurvey the sea's bottom to the new maximum depth. That is not done. Year after year, we have given both Houses of Parliament the figures for the proportion of our own seaways round these islands which are not yet surveyed to modern standards. They are appallingly high. I shall not insult the House by giving them again. How long can one go on before tackling the root of the matter?

Let us look at the symptoms of what is happening now. Of course, the House is in the debt of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, for raising the matter. Why is it that she has had to call attention to the 1979 Report of the Hydrographer? Why is she not in a position to call attention to the 1980 Report? We should be glad if the Government could tell us when the 1980 Report can be expected, and why it is late.

Why have the recommendations of the 1975 Hydro-graphic Study Group not been put into effect? These were recommendations about the size and composition of the hydrographic fleet and recommendations about who should pay for it. They have not been put into effect. One may say, "Very well, why should they be put into effect? It was only a study group; it was not a Cabinet decision." If they have not been put into effect in six years, why is it that they have not been put into effect? Do the Government have a reason for ignoring the manifest common sense contained in this 1975 report? If they have a reason, why do they not declare it to Parliament? Why do they conceal the superior grounds, the raison d'etat, the overriding considerations which lead them year after year to neglect this 1975 report about what ought to be done?

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has just reminded us of the rock between the Hebrides and St. Kilda reported in the 1979 annual report. Since then, the hydrographic ships have discovered a bank outside the Outer Hebrides with a minimum depth of four fathoms in a part where the chart said that the minimum depth was 40 fathoms. Of course, the Government know as well as anyone else—indeed, better than anyone else—that that route round the North-West of Scotland, outside the islands, is increasingly used by very large bulk carriers, the 60-foot draught ships. It is a miracle that more of them have not run on that rock and that bank before now. If they do, it will be the Government's fault for not ensuring that the seas round these islands are surveyed as well as the seas round other countries in the world.

I started my remarks by saying that this was a scandal; I think that it also comes in the category of being a national disgrace. In 1975 the Hydrographic Study Group—in the same paper as I have just mentioned—made certain recommendations about how many ships there ought to be. Since then, it has been announced that one new ship has been ordered, and no doubt the Minister will tell us about that order this evening. But please will he also tell us why it is that, six years after that, two ships have been laid up without replacement, and why the Hydrographer's total fleet is thus, at this moment, smaller by two ships than it was in 1975? Why are the Government running down this vital service?

I do not think that the answer can lie in anything except a swift and rapid programme of shipbuilding or, indeed, ship purchase. I do not believe that the answer lies in the transfer of ships from other marine scientific work to the hydrographic survey. If ships are already employed by the National Environment Research Council or, indeed, the oceanographic research bodies, or anyone else, it would be quite wrong simply to pinch them for the Hydrographer. Marine science is marine science; it is one whole, and it is the duty of the Government to conduct and fund it in all fields. The only thing to do is to get new ships for the Hydrographer himself in order to do that work.

I believe that we are facing a classic picture of decay: of nervelessness, thoughtlessness, laziness and decay, on the part of the Government of a modern state. It is exemplified by the composition of the House at this moment. The Government Benches—and I make no apology for repeating this (I said it only a couple of weeks ago in another debate)—are peopled by three noble Lords and one noble Baroness. The Opposition Benches are peopled by a great many more than that, and among them I am glad to note the present Leader of the Labour Opposition, two past Leaders of the Labour Opposition and three former chairmen of the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea, and until a moment ago it was four. I think that that in itself is symptomatic.

When we have a service of scientific and economic activity, such as that of the Hydrographer, which really is of interest to a nation like ours—because it is lifesaving, because it is commerce-promoting, because it is high technology and because it gives skilled employment to many good people who need it—and when we get a service about which we can do something, what happens?—the Government vanish. Why do they vanish? No doubt they will tell us. But I guess that they vanish because to do the right thing would involve an increase, or a decrease in the decrease, of Government expenditure. They say, "If it costs money, do not look at it again; down the drain with it! If it goes down to the Exchequer on the bill, then it must be bad. Whether it produces work or knowledge, whether it saves lives or whether it promotes commerce, if it is public money, it is bad." Therefore, we do not pay any attention to it.

Both speakers so far have mentioned the administrative crux of this matter, and that is who pays for the hydrographers. Traditionally it is the Secretary of State for Defence, and he continues to pay for what the Navy needs. But the Navy does not have very big ships any more. The Navy does not have any 60-foot draught VLCCs. The Navy has ships which draw 20 or 30 feet, and that is all right for those surveys, which were very largely correctly done before the Second World War. Therefore, according to the niggling accounting of public money which goes on at the moment, the Navy has no interest in getting accurate surveys lowered. So who has?

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He is aware that the Navy has submarines.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I am sorry, I am aware of it but I had completely forgotten it. If I call the noble Lord my noble friend it means that we belong to the same party. I am grateful to my friend for reminding me of this fact. They do have indeed submarines. Therefore, it seems that somebody else has to pay for the bit which is of primary interest to civilian ships; the merchant ships; the big ones. Who is that? It is the Department of Trade.

I want to repeat, which I always do in these nearly annual debates, a bit of the history of the structure of Government on this matter. During the last Labour Government a bold and forward-looking decision was taken. That was to appoint the Leader of this House, who was also Minister of the Civil Service—my noble ex-friend and still my personal friend Lord Peart—to be the overlord of all maritime policy. Unfortunately, in the time that he held that position he did not get round to doing a whole lot of things which no doubt he would have got round to if he had had longer, including rationalising the financing of the Hydrographer.

What happened when this Government came in? They demolished even that first step towards the co-ordination of Government policy on maritime affairs. They wiped it out as if it had never happened. They said, "Everybody will be equal. All the departments in Whitehall will be equal on this matter, except that the Department of Trade will be a little more equal than others, and the Secretary of State for Trade will have the responsibility of the 'lead department' on all maritime affairs." But nevertheless the Secretary of State for Trade has not been given a co-ordinating function, as the Leader of this House was under the last Government. Still less has he been given any statutory powers which have not belonged to the Secretary of State for Trade over the decades. He is still only primes inter pares. In fact, we all know that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is the Junior Minister at the Board of Trade. responsible for maritime policy and for exercising from day to day that responsibility of the Department of Trade.

I hope that noble Lords opposite will take what I am going to say now as being absolutely non-personal. I think that all of them are doing the best they can with the present structure, but I believe the present structure to be grossly and indeed disastrously defective in this matter. First of all, there is nobody responsible for the whole of maritime policy. We should compare ourselves in this with France, where maritime policy as a whole is among the four great aims of the nation. Of course we do not think in that way, and for a nation to have great aims is a quaintly French idea, is it not? Nevertheless, in so far as any nation gives itself aims, France has given itself that aim among its top four. Not us. Nobody co-ordinates this. It is left to one department which is responsible for one part of maritime economic activity—namely, shipping—but not for others. This department has been given the lead. This in a certain sense tucks everybody else under the interest mantle of shipping.

Thirdly, beyond that, the matter has been delegated by the Secretary of State for Trade to one of his Parliamentary Secretaries—remember, I am not personal in this—Lord Trefgarne, who has an extremely full plate. He has to look after the Foreign Office on a day-to-day basis in this House, as well as the Department of Trade. Fourthly, even the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is not with us tonight. Still nonpersonal—and I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Avon, will do as much as any man could from his own position—the debate tonight is to be answered by the noble Earl, Lord Avon; a Lord in Waiting who is responsible for the affairs of many Government departments, among which is not even the Department of Trade.

So for the occasion of this parliamentary debate it has been pushed down to the level of a Lord in Waiting whose responsibilities do not include those of the department responsible for Government policy in the matter. It would be unrealistic of the House to expect any shift in the Government position this evening. The Government have shown what they think of the importance of this matter. The issue will remain. Ships will be wrecked; shores will be polluted; commerce will suffer; the name of Britain and the contribution of Britain in and to the world will continue to go down until someone in the Government takes a grip of the matter and stops drifting.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, it is always rather difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on this, one of his pet subjects. We have just heard a typically hard-hitting example of his expertise and knowledge on this subject. In a way it makes me feel as though I am again making my maiden speech, which I did on this subject five years ago. I should like to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, in congratulating the Hydrographic Office on their centenary report, and indeed on their enormous contribution over the last 100 years to the safety of navigation; a task which they have performed with great dedication and enthusiasm, often with very meagre resources.

The chart is fundamental to good navigation, and we have always prided ourselves in our charts in this country. A well-trained seaman with good charts should theoretically be able to navigate anywhere, provided of course he obeys the rules of the road. Unfortunately, recently standards of seamanship have been declining. This is in part due to the enormous increase of emergent nations' ships on the waters of the world. Recently, indeed, checks by English and French authorities on ships visiting their ports revealed a sad lack of up-to-date charts, and this is quite disgraceful.

This, however, is no fault of the Hydrographic Office, who have completed in the last few years an enormous extra burden of work in bringing up to date our charts to include the introduction of the new IALA system standard buoyage, and also the general metrification introduction in general chart work. This work still continues. Although the United Kingdom section of it has been completed the rest of the world is still following, but slowly. Yet more revision will be occasioned, possibly next year when a proposed new routing scheme is introduced in the English Channel. This new scheme is really rounding off the rough edges of the hurried schemes introduced by the French following the "Amoco Cadiz" disaster. It is understandable on their part, but nevertheless introduced perhaps too hurriedly and without too much thought.

This new scheme proposes a logical recommended direction of traffic flow between the existing mandatory separation schemes in the Dover Strait off the Casquets, and off Ushant. These routes would be marked by regularly placed high focal plane buoys, with a new light vessel to be positioned in the western channel, which would go some way towards attracting ships to come up the middle of the channel.

If these proposals are implemented—and there is every indication that they will be—it will put an extra burden once again on our very stretched Hydrographic Service, both in the surveying for and production of new charts. I would introduce here a word of warning regarding any possible cutback in Government expenditure on charts because it might open the door to one or two British commercial chart-producing firms whose information is nothing like as detailed as that of the Hydrography Office and might lead to substandard and secondhand charts being produced, and that would be most undesirable.

One of the illogicalities that has come to light in the 1972 Collision Regulations is that Rule 10, which refers specifically to the conduct of ships within the special separation lanes, makes it virtually impossible for a survey craft to operate legally within the separation lanes; namely, in the places where surveys are most needed. I have even heard unconfirmed reports of Dutch survey craft, which perhaps turn a slightly Nelsonian eye to the regulations, carrying out surveys illegally in the separation lanes, and the information is passed on to our Hydrography Department. This is a ludicrous situation and I sincerely hope the Government can confirm that this anomaly is to be altered in the first up-date of the IMCO Collision Regulations, which I believe is due sometime later this year.

Other noble Lords have already referred to the fleet of survey ships at present in the Hydrographic Service. There are 13 ships, the same number as when I made my maiden speech five years ago, and the last ship, the "Herald", was commissioned in 1974. This is not good enough and I beg the Government urgently to consider the requests from all sides for new survey ships. I appreciate that the first call on these ships is for naval requirements, but I cannot emphasise strongly enough the increasingly urgent need to cover civil hydrographic requirements.

I welcome in the report the introduction of new equipment, especially the side scanning sonar which has greatly facilitated the plotting of wrecks. But this method is expensive in ship time due to the slow speed, of six or seven knots, necessary for it, and I believe that a new type of forward-looking sector scanning sonar is being considered. This will considerably speed up the process of surveying, and perhaps the Minister when he replies would confirm that this new forward-looking sonar is being considered. While the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, said there were 14,000 wrecks in this part of the world, my information is that there are 20,000 wrecks in north-west Europe, a considerable number when one considers the number of ships which are sailing around over those wrecks all the time. A somewhat alarming aspect which is not generally recognised is that when a wreck is discovered and blown up, instead of having one solid object immovable in one place, one is then confronted with perhaps up to 20 smaller objects which can be moved by the action of tide or current and are therefore much more difficult to locate. As a yachtsman and shipmate of the son of a distinguished former hydrographer, who I am happy to say is listening to the debate, I especially welcome the new quarterly edition of Notice to Mariners for the use of small craft between the Elbe and Gironde limits, as in my maiden speech I urged the Hydrography Office to consider the special needs of yachtsmen.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, as always, mentioned super tankers. Perhaps here there is a ray of hope on the horizon because the ULCC's, or ultra large crude carriers, which were creating such a stir two years ago, are now beginning to find their way to the scrap yards. That has been brought about by changing commercial requirements and perhaps a hopeful pointer for the future is that the new ships coming along will be smaller, very much beamier with consequently greatly reduced draught.

The "Droggy" Department, as they are affectionately known in the Navy, go along way towards making up for the shortfall in their equipment by their enthusiasm and justifiable pride in their task in helping to maintain the safety of navigation. I hope it is not too much to ask the Government, even in these times of financial stringency, to find the comparatively small amount needed to assist and expand a service which is doing a job which we, as an island nation dependent on seaborne trade, should regard as vital.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Vickers on tabling a Question relating to this extremely important service. I also congratulate the Hydrographer and all his people not only for the work they do but for the excellent report they have made. I am deeply concerned about the future, not just of the Hydrographic Department but of all things maritime in relation to this country. We depend greatly on the sea, even now, for all sorts of things, and I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will be speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. He may remember that we had a debate on fish not long ago in which I was advancing the same thought; namely, that people are forgetting that the roots of this country rest in the sea. That applies not only to what I might call the defence aspect in the Royal Navy; it applies to all sorts of other activities.

There is, I fear, a reason why your Lordships' House is so empty tonight. While he said certain things with which I did not agree, I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, when he said it was rather shocking that the House was so sparse, with no Liberals being present. This is a fact of life and I am not criticising it in any way. The reason is that people travel by air these days when they wish to leave these islands. Fifty years ago, if one wanted to go to France, it was the rule rather than the exception to go by sea. If one happened, therefore, to be the Secretary of State for Trade (or President of the Board of Trade, as it was in those days) one automatically knew about the sea, even if one was not a yachtsman, like some of us happily are. Indeed, one was reminded of it whenever one went abroad, for whatever reason. If this debate had taken place 50 years ago, relatively more noble Lords would have been in attendance; there might have been the same number, but the House was not as big in those days. Relatively more Members would have been in attendance because the kind of people who serve in your Lordships' House are the very people who travel, and in those days they knew about the sea and took it for granted that the sea was vital to us.

I detect that this true understanding and love of the sea is not as strong as it used to be in the circles in which decisions are taken, both in Parliament and outside, because people are not constantly accustomed to using the sea and having its vagaries, troubles and difficulties forced upon them. After all, if one went out of Dover Harbour and the captain made a slight error and the vessel went near to the beach, one might think it a jolly good thing that he had a chart; and that kind of thing would have been in one's blood. So I feel that we have a real problem here, and it is on this kind of theme that I agree in considerable degree with the tenor of what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was saying, though I hope he will forgive me if I say that I do not agree with the way in which he said it. If you want to make friends, you do not strike daggers into them.

The point is that the Government as a whole—and I am not concerned here only with the political end, or with the administrators who advise them—not only do not comprehend the sea problem in the widest possible sense, but have no incentive so to do. We can make our speeches if we feel that we understand what are the basic needs of the country. That takes us so far, but how to go that step further I find almost baffling.

With that kind of start we must look at the fact that the Hydrographic Service provides a service not only to the Royal Navy. I hope that that will always be its main task, and that it will always be naval manned, for the reason that some of its functions have to be performed by officers who have to deal with matters which are not disclosed worldwide and which need to be handled in a defence sense. As well as looking after the Royal Navy, the service deals with the merchant shipping of the country. Whereas all the people now travel by air (which they did not do 50 years ago) the vast bulk of goods, although not all of them, come by sea. So, while the people do not think about the service, the goods, which are vital to this country's survival, need the kind of cosseting which people used to think they got for themselves—if that is not too complicated a way of putting it.

Therefore, we must say to ourselves that the service is being rendered to everybody and we must make a much greater effort than has been made hitherto. I know that noble Lords opposite when they were in Government took an initiative, whether through the Department of Trade or some other body, towards getting the merchant service angle fed into the costs of maintaining the Hydrographic Service as it stands, and indeed of expanding and modernising it, which is clearly necessary. How we do this, I do not know. But this is a challenge to my noble friends on the Front Bench, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Avon will be able to say something about how the Government see the machinery for doing this.

We provide other services, to other people. I suppose we can say that we sell them charts and sailing directions, and that is our recompense. But of course the cost of producing that kind of product bears no relation to an ordinary commercial transaction, and it does not seem right that when people come into our waters part of their harbour dues should not be fed back into the Hydrographic Services. They have got there because we have produced good charts for them.

There is another angle which I believe could be exploited and expanded. This involves appointing a marketing man. I have previously tried this suggestion on the House; I think it was when I was sitting on the other Benches. I consider that the Hydrographer requires a marketing man, a real one—not a naval officer or a civil servant turned into one. Such a marketing man could examine where in the world hydrography is required. Many countries operate from their own resources—some of these countries are quite small—but there are many that do not, and we could sell our services to those countries, as we sold them to Iran until the débâcle brought that to a close. I should have thought that there was room for a proper marketing man to focus his eye on the opportunities in the world and then to go out and sell our services.

Probably it sounds terrible to some people—I do not think I see any naval officers in the Chamber—to use an arm of the Royal Navy as though it were a product to be sold. But perhaps I have been out of the Navy long enough to see that in a sense that is just what is needed. Here I direct my remarks at the entire Government, who sadly are somewhat lacking in sea-minded persons. The Government need to look for the sea point of view when they work out this matter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that probably this can be done only by having a senior Cabinet Minister to encompass the whole. I think that the noble Lord's point is admirable and really needs resuscitating. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will tell us exactly what was the experience of doing that. I cannot now quite see salt in his hair, but perhaps there was some there previously.

Above everything, we must not forget that in this seafaring field we have an expertise which we have built up over centuries and we remain in the forefront in practically every seafaring activity. If we are not careful, we shall squander this skill and tremendous resource of people and, perhaps decaying, material. Before it is too late, we must stop, we must size up. We need the sea because we survive by goods being imported. We need the sea because this is how we keep in touch with the outside world in a practical sense all the time. As a result, we are expert at our seafaring activities. Nothing is worse than losing a carefully nurtured expertise just because it is not seen to suit the modern times in a clear-cut major way, rather as the Hydrographic Service served the Navy that operated worldwide as a matter of course instead of as a special operation. That gave a purpose to keeping the service in existence and the commercial aspect was a byproduct. Now the situation is reversed, and we must not waste the expertise simply because some people cannot comprehend the new picture and the way in which it should be handled.

7.48 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, when the noble Baroness completed her speech after introducing the Question, I thought that there was nothing more to be said. She deployed the case very fully. However, as an ex-Leader of the House one has the habit of tending to start summing up a debate, whereas I know that my noble friend Lord Peart is here to do that, but I must say that I think that this has been an interesting debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, pointed out, it is particularly interesting that at the moment there are present no less than four chairmen of ACOPS. I speak not as a sailor, but as an honorary elder brother of Trinity House, which does a superb job and is deeply concerned with this matter. If the noble Lord who has just spoken is worried about the possibility of the Navy becoming commercial, I would point out that when I was Air Force Minister it took all my time to stop people selling off the front line of the Air Force to Saudi Arabia and other countries in order to get a bit of foreign exchange.

When I introduced the debate, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, made such a notable contribution, in 1975, the only answer of any kind I then received from the Government through my noble friend Lord Winterbottom was that no decision had been taken on the future of HMS "Endurance". Since, 10 days later, I went south in HMS "Endurance" and HMS "Endurance" is still going backwards and forwards, the possibility of avoiding any decision seems to be almost infinite. But the fact is that the ships are going to wear out; and I am bound to say that what was said by my noble friend Lord Kennett—I do not know whether he is "my noble friend", but he is certainly my friend—was, I think, entirely true. It is a fact that there is no possibility, in my opinion, of getting any sort of action in this area at all from the Government—neither a Labour Government (although they tried) nor, certainly, the present Government, with their slightly anti-science bias.

It is really a defect of system—and I am not trying to make party points. I apologise for the political party point that I did make, but I happened to hear the Royal Society talking on that point recently. But it is a fact that our Government system is not geared to do this; and although the great strength of the House of Lords is that we can raise matters of importance which lack sex appeal, and therefore do not get raised in the Commons—political sex appeal, that is—I do not expect that we shall get anything to our comfort from the noble Earl, Lord Avon. This is no reflection on him. I know that Lords-in-Waiting always get briefs, but I think he would do much better to tear up his brief and say, "We will report this and we will try to think seriously about it".

It is a scandal that a couple of million tons of shipping gets lost in a year. I do not know whether anyone mentioned the 500 feet ship that went aground in the West Indies. All they had was a map (I do not know whether the noble Lord mentioned this) of the North Atlantic on which Bermuda, where they went ashore, or maybe the Bahamas, was just a small blob. It is quite incredible. Until there is a consistent approach by government to the maritime problem, I do not expect any progress at all, and I am sorry to say that I do not expect progress tonight. Whether the noble Earl, Lord Avon, can do better than my noble friend Lord Winterbottom, I do not know, but it is unfair to expect it of him. I think perhaps it is a pity we did not have, as I think one noble Lord said, a defence Minister to take part in this debate, but it is all good training for Lords-in-Waiting. It is not entirely good fun, but none the less I am sure the noble Earl will cope with a very difficult situation.

Noble Lords have referred to the huge Whole Shoal. I think my noble friend Lord Kennet referred to ships with 60 feet of draught. Of course, there are ships now with 90 feet draught. The fact is that the seas are getting more and more dangerous; and whether the Hydrographer of the Navy will be fined like the Swedish hydrographer (and I think that in fact that £1 million suit by a Russian ship did stick) I do not know; but it was a feast of litigation, with liability everywhere. This could become quite an expensive process.

I should like to ask, can the Minister tell us what is going to happen about the inshore survey craft? The same old argument gets trotted out. We got it in the 1979 report of the Hydrographer, and you get it in practically the same words in the 1981 Defence White Paper, except that that sounds as if it is even further away, because they say: The three remaining inshore survey craft are to be replaced over the next few years". Really, when the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, talks about it as a scandal, it is a scandal and it is a tragedy. The Hydrography Service of the Navy is one of the glories of this country, and when one looks at our naval history and those early maps of New Zealand by people like Captain Cook, one sees the beauty of the work. It is artistic work, it is high-calibre work; and yet it is left to drift away.

My Lords, I will not go into the few points that I had intended to make. I think we are all anxious to congratulate the Hydrographic Service, both the civilian service and those who go to sea. I hope they will not be too discouraged by this debate. I hope also that we will continue to press on with this matter. It may be that if we had an Unstarred Question like this about once a month—and perhaps the noble Baroness could manage that—we might get a different answer from that which I fear we may get from the noble Earl, and we might make some progress. But I beg of him to convey to his noble friends the Ministers the real seriousness that is felt. I think the arguments have been brought out strongly and that it is apparent that, irrespective of party, there is a serious problem.

It is not fair to expect the Navy to bear the whole cost of this on their defence budget; but the efforts that my noble friend Lord Peart and others made in an attempt to spread the costs around are really not leading to anything any more, and, again, it is a fault of our system of government. So I hope that the noble Earl, if he cannot say anything to our comfort, will in due course report the strength of feeling in this House.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I think we have had an excellent debate, and I want to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, on her speech. She has always had a great affection for the Navy. She represented a seat which is famous, and I know that a lot of people were very sorry that they lost her at that time, because she was unique. But she has always kept a love for the service in the defence of our country, and I know that we will keep what she said in mind. I should like to add to the tribute which she paid to the men in the service that we are discussing. After all, it is not an easy life in many cases.

I went right through this document, which was sent to us rather late. That was unfortunate; but I have read rather quickly today the report by the Hydrographer. We forget that it is the 100th anniversary of the first annual report by the Hydrographer of the Navy. Really, those who have a love of the sea should be here to pay tribute to these people, who try to give a service, to chart the sea and protect the shipping, not only of our own country but of other countries as well.

I found this document wonderful reading, and I will treasure it, really, this first 100th anniversary production. I think more people should read it; and I am so glad at the tone of the speeches on all sides. I know Lord Shackleton very well. He has pleaded, quite rightly, for the Minister to convey to other people in the department the importance, not only of the service itself but of the future, and he stressed that. I think in many ways that was the theme of Lord Ritchie-Calder, who gave us a much more detailed speech than perhaps I could ever do, with his knowledge of science, although I am a B.Sc. (Geology)—but that is another matter. But he is, I think, an expert on this matter.

I should also like to pay tribute to Lord Kennet. He is also a tremendous expert on this matter; I know that. I would not mind being kicked from behind and chased by him if I was on the other side. I think I tried, with him, to make our Government aware of the importance of the service. I do not want to go on and on like this, but I believe the big thing now is to say to the Government, "Look here; there is a strong surge of opinion that demands action on this, and it comes not only from the Benches here but from the opposite Benches as well".

So I hope that the noble Earl will convey to his ministerial colleagues the feeling of the House on this, because I am pretty certain that if nothing is done then, somehow, we shall have to have another debate, and another debate would probably be a longer affair and would embarrass the Government more so. I respect the noble Earl very much. He is an Army man and I was an Army man; but I believe he is a good junior Minister. He has done well so far, and I hope that he will convey the feelings of this House to his ministerial colleagues.

8 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Vickers for drawing the attention of this House to the work of the Hyrdographic Service. This is the first occasion for several years that we have had the opportunity to examine in depth the contribution that the service makes both to the nation and to the international community. The last occasion was as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, reminded us, in December, 1975. As my noble friend's Question implies, this is a particularly fitting time to consider these matters as the publication of the 1979 report marks the 100th anniversary of reports by the Hydrographer of the Navy. My noble friend may be assured that Her Majesty's Government have studied the report. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked about the current report. When I got my report, I looked at the date of this one: it was produced in December, 1980, so it is only five months old. I am told the new report is on the way. In her speech, my noble friend referred to the work of both the Hydrographic Department and the survey flotilla. I was pleased to hear that her recent visit to the Department at Taunton was a success and that she was able to catch up with news of two ships of the flotilla, HMS "Fox" and HMS "Fawn" with which she previously had a close constituency interest. I note, incidentally, that "Fawn" bears the name of one of the ships of the 1879 flottilla.

In reply to her speech, I intend to touch on recent developments and the Government plans for the future. In so doing, I shall try to cover some of my noble friend's main points although I hope that she will not expect me to deal with every one of them in detail. I should like to begin by saying a little about the importance of the Hydrographic Service, first, through its contribution to the defence of the realm and secondly to the safety of merchant shipping. It is self-evident that the Royal Navy must have accurate charts if it is to make the best use of the sea and ensure the safety of Her Majesty's ships. It is perhaps less obvious that the collection and recording of information about the seabed and water column above it are vital for the effective operation of our submarines and the detection of enemy submarines. The Navy has to take full account of the Soviet Union's maritime threat which, as I think my noble friend and others mentioned, includes over 300 submarines (excluding those in reserve) and they are backed-up by a very substantial hydrographic fleet of some 100 vessels.

Just as an Army commander needs to know the shape of the land surface through which he will be fighting to make best use of dead ground and observation points, so a submarine commander must know as much about the floor of the oceans whether he is attacking or wishes to remain undetected. As the effectiveness and range of submarine detection equipment is enhanced, so the importance of a detailed knowledge of ocean geography increases. The introduction to the Royal Navy of weapon systems such as the Polaris submarine and, in due course, Trident, with an increased range of operation, and an overwhelming requirement to remain undetected, places demands on the survey flotilla which must be satisfied if the effectiveness of the deterrent is not to be impaired. Ships of the flotilla also have important military roles in time of war.

To turn to my second point, developments in trade also make new demands on the Hydrographic Service. The draughts of the largest ships are now more than twice as great as those of the largest warships. To cope with the growth in oil traffic, new routes and new ports must be surveyed in areas which are not necessarily of the highest defence priority. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, for reminding us that safety at sea is not, of course, assured by improved charts alone, but also we must take into account tanker increases and the volume of oil carried. To minimise the risks of an accident many countries have introduced traffic separation schemes in waters near their coasts to reduce the risk of collision and subsequent pollution. In this context it was disappointing to read in the Hydrographer's report that spot-checks in the summer of 1979 on merchant ships entering British and French ports showed that a significant number of charts of traffic separation schemes off Northern France did not take account of amendments introduced in January of that year. In some cases, ships were using charts which would have led them the wrong way down the appropriate traffic lane. However, I understand that in May 1980 the Safety of Life at Sea Convention came into force. Consequently, it has now become a requirement for all ships subject to the Convention to carry adequate and up-to-date charts and all other nautical publications necessary for the intended voyage. I hope that will satisfy one of Lord Shackleton's points. Arrangements to improve the enforcement of the Convention are under consideration.

Turning from the requirement for surveying to the resources available to carry it out, the Royal Navy's Survey Flotilla now consists of four ocean survey ships, four coastal survey vessels and three inshore survey craft. In addition, the ice patrol ship, HMS "Endurance" has a hydrographic survey team embarked. In the course of last year, inshore survey craft continued routine surveys in the outer Thames Estuary, off the Goodwin Sands and off the East Anglian coast primarily for the benefit of the merchant marine. Major surveys were carried out in the Irish Sea. In this context, my noble friend will no doubt be aware that HM Ships "Fox" and "Fawn" have been surveying the deep draught tanker routes into Milford Haven and off Anglesey. A start was made on the major surveys for merchant shipping off the West and North Coasts of Scotland; these areas lie astride the routes that are increasingly used by tankers on passage to and from the huge oil terminal at Sullom Voe. Important surveys were also carried out in the Channel and off the coast of Yorkshire where several wrecks were located for the first time.

The debate in this House six years ago was about the work of a Hydrographic Study Group which was set up to assess the future civil hydrographic requirement. Since then, further studies of the civil requirement have been carried out. Then as now, the analysis was carried out against a background of public expenditure restraint. I shall return to that later. The problem of meeting requirements with limited resources remains but I can report that Her Majesty's Government have made considerable progress. As a result of the most recent studies into the civil hydrographic requirement, action is being taken to do more to meet the needs of merchant shipping round our coasts. The Government, as announced a year ago, intend to order a new coastal survey vessel to help meet these needs. Progress is now well in hand. A feasibility study has been carried out. I would expect that firms will be invited to submit tenders shortly and the vessel to enter service in 1984.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, would my noble friend allow me? Does he not think that, at the beginning of this century, that craft would have been built by now instead of going out to tender?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, perhaps in those days the Governments had more money. In these days it is wiser to go out to tender. The Defence White Paper states that the three inshore survey craft, all now 20 years old, are now to be replaced over the next few years by three new and more suitable vessels. These are a 15-metre launch, an improved coastal survey vessel and a surface effect craft, commonly known as a hovercraft. The last of these is for use in shallow waters. In response to one of Lord Greenway's points, the sector planning sonar has completed trials and the first set is in operational use in HMS "Bulldog". Further sets of this equipment are being considered for new construction coastal survey vessels. In addition, the Government have decided that the Royal Navy should deploy surveying effort equivalent to a total of three coastal survey vessels. The actual ships involved are expected to be drawn from one ocean survey ship, a coastal survey vessels and the three inshore survey craft. These ships will be tasked to carry out a programme drawn-up in consultation with the Department of Trade and will be covering the routes through areas of the highest priority for merchant vessels: the Minches, West of the Hebrides and in the deep water routes in the Southern North Sea.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, will some of those costs fall on the Department of Trade or will the Ministry of Defence carry it all?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, at the moment the Ministry of Defence carries this particular one. I will come to another point in a moment about another department. I have said something about the requirement for hydrographic surveying and the resources available to the Ministry of Defence to meet it. There is also a need to analyse the data which the Surveying Flotilla obtains and to record it on charts. This is primarily the job of the Hydrographic Department, a thousand or so strong, at Taunton. To give some indication of the growth and scale of the department's operations, a comparison between 1879 and 1979 might be instructive. A 100 or so years ago, for example, about 200 Notices to Mariners were issued and close to 200,000 charts printed. In 1979 the figures were nearly 3,500 Notices to Mariners and over 3,500,000 charts. In this case, more does not mean worse. Improvements in surveying equipment and techniques and greater use of automation have resulted in the production of charts of far greater accuracy and detail than it was possible to produce a 100 years ago.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, took the Government to task or, if I may say so, he took both Governments to task, because, as the last debate was in 1975, I think it is three years to the Opposition and two years to the Government. I hope that I have stressed that we have been doing quite a lot in the two years that we have been in office. The noble Lord also raised the point that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne might be answering tonight. Happy as we always are to have my noble friend speaking, in this case it falls to the lot of the Ministry of Defence. In looking at the 1975 Hansard, I was interested to see that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, was speaking in this debate on that occasion and at that time I think that he would have been a Lord in Waiting. So we are not trying to avoid getting somebody more important but it has been to some extent the custom. May I pay tribute here to my noble friend Lord Strathcona who, had he been in office, I am sure would have been answering as a naval man? I must finally add on that particular point that as a Lord in Waiting one speaks for the Government rather than for an actual department.

The warm appreciation of the speakers this evening of the work of the Hydrographer of the Navy and his team, afloat and ashore, will be most welcome, and the Government fully endorse this. I should like to confirm that the various points and suggestions that we have had made tonight covering many fields, ranging over departments and control, pollution and dangers, separation schemes from the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, harbour dues and marketing men from my noble friend Lord Mottistone, will be studied—I had "in depth" in my notes but the better word is "closely"—and taken into account before any new decisions are made.

To sum up, the Royal Navy's hydrographic contribution to defence and to the needs of merchant shipping is being maintained and I hope that what I have said will endorse this. Of course, we could do more if we had the resources. I should add that the Hydro-graphic Department, as with all other parts of the Defence Department, is under pressure to make savings. The study group recommendations have to some extent been implemented; some of the 1974 recommendations were overtaken by events but others have been dealt with. To take the first three recommendations, the two ocean survey ships and one inshore survey craft which were to have been paid off following a defence review were spared; secondly, the recommendation that the efforts of the surveying flotilla should be concentrated on high priority tasks in the home waters has been carried out; thirdly, the size of the hydrographic office at Taunton has been augmented as in point of fact the report says. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked me about the Department of Trade. There is co-operation going on at the moment with the Department of Industry, which is co-operating with the MOD over the new CSV. The Government are doing all that they reasonably can and are confident that the next report will record further progress and provide a sound basis for the next 100 years.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past eight o'clock.