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Diego Garcia

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 11 March 1975

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23.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what expansion has already been made to the base facilities at Diego Garcia.

I understand that as United States legislative procedures have yet to be completed the United States Government are not in a position to start work on the expansion to which our agreement was announced on 3rd December.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the United States Congress has been informed that $65 million was spent on this project during 1973–74 and that a further $95,000 is budgeted for expenditure in 1974–75? Is that massive expenditure compatible with the modest expansion which my right hon. Friend indicated to the House? Has he seen recent Press reports that after this extension the base will have nuclear capability for nuclear bombers? Does he appreciate that that would be contrary to United Nations resolutions and the expressed wish of most States around the Indian Ocean?

First, I must inform my hon. Friend that what we agreed to in the statement of 3rd December was work additional to that which was agreed in 1972. Secondly, the cost of that additional work, at the most, is $35 million. Thirdly, there are no plans to base ships or aircraft on Diego Garcia, and there will be no facilities of any kind for nuclear weaponry.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give recent figures concerning the number of Soviet ships visiting the Indian Ocean area?

I cannot, off the cuff, give the figures. The hon. Gentleman must know, and the House is fully aware, that in recent years there has been increasing Soviet naval activity east of Suez, particularly in the Indian Ocean.

In the discussions that took place in the Foreign Office last week, between Mr. Wilford and representatives of the Indian Government, were the objections of the Indian Government noted? What is the attitude of the Ministry of Defence?

Although I was not involved in the discussion to which my hon. Friend refers, I can say that we took notice of what the Indians and the littoral States said about Diego Garcia and the possibility of a nuclear-free zone in the Indian Ocean. As my hon. Friend realises, the United States and the United Kingdom are prepared to consider an Australian proposal on how best to ensure a nuclear-free zone in that area.