HL Deb 25 October 1984 vol 456 cc274-6

3.10 p.m.

Lord Kennet

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government who made and who laid the mines recently recovered by the Royal Navy from the Red Sea.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the mine recovered by the Royal Navy from the Gulf of Suez was of Soviet manufacture, but we do not know who laid it.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I know that it is always wrong to invite a Government to speculate, but may I ask whether, for instance, the noble Lord is able to exclude any countries which could not reasonably have been assumed to have laid the mine? Would he care to comment on assertions that have been made in the press that it was Iran or that it was Libya in particular?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it would be very unwise of me to speculate at all upon who laid that mine—but I can confirm that it was not the Royal Navy!

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister who paid for the expenditure incurred by the Royal Navy in going out there to recover these mines?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, mostly Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware (of course he will be aware) that an international conference is to be held in, I think, Khartoum on 20th November to consider this whole matter of the Gulf and the Red Sea? Can he indicate whether or not Her Majesty's Government are taking an interest in that conference, and whether we shall be sending either a representative or an observer there?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have to come absolutely clean and say that I was not aware of the conference concerned; but I shall find out and let the noble Lord know the answer.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, if this sort of thing can happen in times of so-called peace, what is likely to happen if there is war? One can imagine the destruction of shipping. Are we satisfied that we have an adequate volume of merchant shipping capable of carrying the cargoes that are necessary—military and otherwise—in the event of some aggression? Are we in that situation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord may be reassured to know that as regards mine-clearing vessels generally, we have 28 Ton class vessels, eight Hunt class vessels and two River class vessels currently in service, and in addition the single role minesweepers are on order.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, seriously, I wonder whether the noble Lord can go a little further. Was the mine of a type which must have been laid by a ship or which must have come from an aircraft? Have Her Majesty's Government made inquiries of the riparian states, particularly Egypt? Have we made inquiries of the United States, whose satellite surveillance capability would probably be enough to identify the state which laid the mine?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we are certainly wondering which country it is which could have laid the mine, but we would have to begin the inquiries on the basis of some evidence, and so far we have none that is of any consequence.