asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what extent the proposals he announced in his statement on 11th February provide a defence of individual rigs and platforms, as opposed to a patrol and surveillance exercise.
The number of rigs and platforms in the North Sea is expected to grow to about 100 and it would clearly not be practicable to provide each of them with individual protection. The ships and aircraft referred to in my statement will provide essentially a surveillance capability.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the considerable criticism of the Government's proposal amongst independent defence experts? Does not the recent incident concerning a Soviet trawler in the area suggest the need to have naval helicopters available in the area? Will he reconsider his proposal in the light of the wide range of criticism directed at it?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is being less than generous. Of course, there is a continuing public debate about this difficult question— I would not quarrel with that at all— but to say that there has been considerable criticism is wrong. There has been widespread understanding of what we are seeking to do. If experience demands, or new circumstances recommend, some change of plan, we shall be willing to consider it, but on our best assumptions at present, what we are proposing makes good sense.
Does the Minister of State agree that if our Armed Forces were in charge of anything as valuable as an oil production platform, they would guard it day and night?
That is a very interesting question. I am not quite sure about the conclusion which the hon. Gentleman himself would draw from that.