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Indian Ocean

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 29 January 1975

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11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the issue of the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking in response to the United Nations resolution calling for a nuclear-free zone to be established in the Indian Ocean.

Although we did not support this resolution, we and the United States Government have agreed to consult about possible arms limitation measures in the Indian Ocean. We have also expressed our support for the Australian Prime Minster's proposal for consultations between the United States and Soviet Governments on the possibility of mutual restrictions in the area.

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that the CENTO naval exercise in November was the largest maritime exercise in history and that the defence review decision on Diego Garcia indicates that the Government support a policy of deliberate militarisation of the Indian Ocean? Is it not time we changed direction?

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's interpretations. I have never seen CENTO as a threatening, challenging organisation, and I cannot accept the suggestion that a CENTO exercise presents any threat or challenge to anyone. As for Diego Garcia, I do not see anything that is in conflict with our wish to see an extension of peace in the Indian Ocean. I see no contradiction between that and the decision to grant to the United States a limited expansion of services in Diego Garcia.

Will the Minister point out to his hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) that the recent naval exercises in the Indian Ocean are very small compared with those undertaken by the Soviet submarine and surface fleets and that the Soviet establishment in Somalia antedates considerably the expansion of the Diego Garcia facilities?

It is true that there has been an increase in the naval presence in the area.

Will my right hon. Friend explain why the Diego Garcia expansion is so limited when the American Government are budgeting £40 million for its expansion? Is he aware of the evidence given to the Senate Armed Services Committee that after expansion Diego Garcia will have the capability for F111 aircraft which have a nuclear capability? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the almost unanimous opposition to expansion from all the littoral States around the Indian Ocean? Why has he not listened to that opposition, and what reply has he given to the recent protest from the Indian Government over this matter?

I shall deal first with the services provided on Diego Garcia. I referred to a modest improvement of the facilities. The improvement is to enable Diego Garcia to have ships and aircraft. It will include a lengthening of the runway, an improvement of the ship support facilities and an enlargement of the airfield parking area. This is not in any way to provide base facilities for the United States. The cost of the expansion is expected to be about £35 million. Nevertheless, in current terms I do not believe that this modest expansion presents a threat to anyone.