I have no reason to doubt the effectiveness of the arrangements being made for fishery protection within extended limits, but naturally such matters have to be kept under constant review.
I accept that helpful answer 100 per cent. Does my hon. Friend accept that in the light of the EEC talks at which the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs laid down the law on behalf of the 50-mile exclusive limit for our fishermen, he should consider the use of redundant trawlers on Humberside for the purpose of enforcement? Could not a contribution be made by ships of the Bird class, which I believe are vital to our efficiency in terms of looking after our people in this area?
As I said, we are keeping the entire situation under constant review, but at the moment we do not consider that the adaptation and use of laid-up trawlers would be as cost-effective as new ships, in terms of remaining hull life and continuing support. On the second point, two Bird class patrol ships—"Kingfisher" and "Cygnet"—are currently in service with the Fishery Protection Squadron. They are designed for work in coastal waters only and are weather-limited. A contract for four was placed on 10th November 1972 with Richard Dunstan's (Hessle) Ltd., of North Humberside, but delays in delivery dates have been experienced due to labour and technical difficulties. No new orders have been placed. The two remaining vessels under construction will be allocated to the RNR.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the serious situation which has developed between Scottish boats and a fleet of large French trawlers outside the 12-mile limit but within 50 miles south-east of Shetland? Is he aware that the fishermen appreciate the prompt action of the Secretary of State for Scotland in ordering the protection cruiser "Westra" to the scene in response to my appeal to him yesterday? Has he been informed of two further instances this morning, when a Scottish boat's nets were cut by a French trawler and, I understand, "Westra" had to board the vessel in question? Will he keep in close touch with the Scottish Office on these incidents, and can he reinforce the Scottish fishery protection fleet if necessary? Can he assure the House that the strongest representations will be made to the French Government?
On the penultimate point, there is close co-operation and co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and the fisheries Departments, including the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland, on all aspects of fishery protection. The fisheries Departments are now closely engaged in exploring the implications of the new regime. What the hon. Gentleman said on his first point reminds us how closely we need to keep that emerging situation under review and how important it is that we know as soon as possible exactly what it will entail.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that our Fishery Protection Squadron is already hard-pressed, and that in view of proposed alterations in fishery limits it will need to be strengthened? Does he not further agree that it would be disastrous if, tomorrow, there were any suggestion of a cut-back in what is already proposed for the building of further fishery protection vessels?
Far from considering any cut-back, we have undertaken an expansion of the fishery protection task. We have new orders for a purpose-built patrol boat of the Island class, which I have mentioned before. There will be five accepted this time next year and there will be four Nimrod aircraft in service from 1st January. Whatever need may arise will be met, within the total resources of the Fleet.
Adequate arrangements have existed for many years for the co-ordination of fishery protection among the Departments concerned. These arrangements have been extended to provide for the effective integration of the additional ships and aircraft which are being provided.
Is the Minister really satisfied that if the Minister of Agriculture manages to negotiate a 50-mile exclusive limit there will be enough vessels to enforce it? Does he not agree that, from a Scottish point of view, the best solution would be for air and sea surveillance, along with fishery protection, to become a civilian responsibility of the Scottish Assembly?
I hope that the hon. Member will not think that I am evading her two questions, but I think that on reflection she will see that neither really relates to the Ministry of Defence. The first clearly relates to the Ministry of Agriculture, if not the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland. I am not clear yet in what direction the second question should go, except that it is not in our direction.
Is the Minister aware that several Ministries are involved in maritime affairs? Will he consider setting up a maritime Ministry or expanding the Coastguard so that they can take over not only fishery protection but other functions, such as oil spillage and air-sea rescue?
As I said earlier, there is close co-ordination on all these matters among Government Departments—not merely on fishery protection but on inshore matters, especially the ones to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I have already paid a visit to the Forties field to look at security. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is the closest co-ordination on these matters. We are not yet satisfied that we have the right answer, but we are in no doubt about the urgency of the matter.
My hon. Friend has anticipated my inevitable question. Will my hon. Friend write to me about the extra costs of separate Scottish naval ships and a separate Scottish Nimrod required for this task?
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that four Nimrods will be able to do this job adequately? When it comes to cost-effectiveness, should he not consider the cost and availability of smaller light aircraft manufactured in Britain?
Those hon. Members who have flown in Nimrod—I know that there is a number—will know of its potential, its manoeuvrability, and its ability to survey both the North Sea and the Western approaches within half a day and to undertake reconnaissance on the most comprehensive basis. I am in no doubt that I can answer the hon. Gentleman in the affirmative.
To prepare for the extension of fishing limits and for the possible introduction of a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, we are providing five new Royal Navy offshore patrol ships of the Island class and allocating four Royal Air Force Nimrod surveillance aircraft. The first of the Island class ships is now in service and the remainder are expected to be accepted into the Royal Navy during 1977; the aircraft will be allocated on 1st January 1977. Other resources of the Armed Forces will be made available as required.
The new ships will be in addition to those in service with the Fishery Protection Squadron and to the fishery protection vessels operated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland.
Does the Minister appreciate that a lrge number of independent defence experts regard the Government's plans as wholly inadequate? Does he further appreciate that if he had spent longer at the Greenwich Forum meeting a fortnight ago he would have heard high-powered criticism of the plans? Will the Government undertake a major review of the proposals, so that Britain's contribution in this area can meet the needs of the time?
I know of no informed defence correspondent who takes the view put forward by the hon. Gentleman. I attended the Greenwich Forum long enough to put forward an explanation and defence of our arrangements that was not answered As I reminded the House, we are putting in hand arrangements that we think will be effective. If they are not, the will be backed up by the total resources of the Fleet.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the important matter he raises is still under discussion. We are awaiting the outcome of those discussions with as much interest and anxiety as he is. I cannot add anything to what I said. We have arrangements in hand of the kind I have described and also, as the House would expect, with the Royal Navy on a contingency basis.
What is the maximum speed of existing and proposed fishery protection vessels, and how does it compare with the likely maximum speed of the trawlers that they might be called upon to pursue?
The speeds of fishery protection vessels range from 40 knots for "Tenacity" —a fast patrol boat—down to 16 knots for the new Island class, which is coming into operation next year. The point to bear in mind is that the rôle of the new Island class, as of the older fishery protection boats, is a policing one. The boats will be rather like bobbies on the beat. The Navy is confident that it can fulfil that function; that is to say, as with the police, we can deploy our resources efficiently and adequately, and when the need arises we shall be capable of the same effective and confident response.
What consideration has has been given to the longer-term question of an international agreement on oceans and parts of oceans that are not fished? Does my hon. Friend accept that an international agreement on this matter would be a far better way of approaching the problem of fishing areas than the posture being adopted at the moment?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that these matters may well turn on further deliberations of the kind that we may expect from the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference III.