§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What progress has been made in regard to the programming and design for the replacement of "H MS Endurance" in 1996.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, am I to deduce from that reply that no progress whatsoever has been made as regards a replacement for "HMS Endurance"? Will the Minister confirm that the existing ship will continue to operate and that there are no proposals to cancel her? Will he bear in mind that on the last occasion the Ministry of Defence cancelled "HMS Endurance", it did so without reference to the Foreign Secretary and despite his protests? Has the Foreign Secretary been consulted on this matter and are any steps being taken to cancel "HMS Endurance" now?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, we aim to reach an early decision. "HMS Endurance" is capable of running on into the mid-1990s. The decision must be a government decision and it will be taken in the light of 178 all the necessary considerations. There will be full consultation between the government departments with an interest in the matter.
§ Lord Pym
My Lords, in view of the enormous importance of the Antarctic Continent, the number of nations that have an interest in it and the fact that the Antarctic treaty is likely to come up for review in the fairly near future, does my noble friend accept that the presence and the deployment of "HMS Endurance" and her successors is indispensable as an element of the British contribution to the work in that continent?
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister tell us how many foreign countries have new ships of the same calibre as "HMS Endurance" in the Antarctic?
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, in considering the future of "HMS Endurance", will the Government take into account the fact that the presence of a surface ship of this kind in the Antarctic is enormously important both in diplomatic terms and in terms of deterring any form of armed adventure by any country in the region? Is my noble friend aware that in that context "HMS Endurance" is probably one of the most cost-effective units in the Royal Navy? Will the Government bear that fact in mind?
§ Lord Molloy
Many Members of both Houses are deeply interested in this subject. Does the Minister accept that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is the best expert in this House or in any other place on "HMS Endurance" and the Antarctic and that he should put forward our views to the Government and report to us on this matter?
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the withdrawal of "HMS Endurance" just before General Galtieri invaded the Falklands was one of the signals which made him think we did not care if he took such a course of action?
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point. Circumstances have changed considerably, however, since 1982. There is a much larger garrison stationed in the Falkland Islands, with a permanent RAF presence. There is also a full-time 179 naval presence, but, above all, there is an air strip capable of taking planes for rapid reinforcement if necessary.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a fairly widespread view in the country, and indeed in your Lordships' House, that the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Pym, should not merely be taken into account but should be the firm policies of Her Majesty's Government?
§ Lord Lewin
My Lords, while strongly supporting all that has been said, I ask the Minister when he and his colleagues consider the future of "HMS Endurance" not to consider her as just a part of the naval programme and take the easy way out by trading one frigate for a replacement but to consider this as a defence matter and, above all, as a national commitment.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, are there not two decisions which face the Government? The first is whether "HMS Endurance" should remain on station performing the duties she presently performs until the mid-1990s. The second decision concerns whether there should be a replacement. Are we not now in difficulties as regards both decisions as we do not know the Government's intentions on either? How soon can we expect a decision on both those matters?
My Lords, as someone who was involved with the navy a long time ago, I was very glad to hear my noble friend say he would draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Defence to the views expressed on all sides of the House. The matter has both military and diplomatic significance of a very high order.
§ Lord Greenway
My Lords, in view of the great interest that has been shown in the House today as regards this matter, perhaps the Government might do well to look towards the Soviet Union where a large number of ice breaking cargo ships suitable for conversion are currently becoming surplus in view of the present situation in that country.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that "HMS Endurance" has great training 180 value? The Royal Navy has little experience of operating in ice and of flying helicopters in the conditions found in the southern ocean. I hope that factor can also be borne in mind.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, is it not the case that this matter has been under consideration by the Government for a long time? What are the reasons for the delay in coming to a conclusion in view of the general opinion in scientific and naval circles that "HMS Endurance" and a replacement are essential in that area if we are to maintain our status and our position there?
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, had hoped to be present perhaps I may ask one more question. Am I to conclude from what the Minister said that the newly appointed captain of "HMS Endurance" may be without a ship this year or next —year that there is a prospect that "HMS Endurance" may be cancelled out of hand in the next two years? Is that a possibility?