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North Sea Oil Installations

Volume 894: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the result of the meeting of NATO Ministers on 5th June 1975 regarding the defence of North Sea oil installations.

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the meeting, not under the auspices of NATO, which was held in The Hague between officials of a number of countries with an interest in the protection of offshore installations. This was a wide-ranging initial discussion on this important and complex subject and it is expected that a further conference will be held later this year. I have arranged for a copy of a communiqué issued following the meeting to be placed in the Library.

Is it not likely that Western Europe will become more concerned with the bringing ashore of energy resources from the North Sea and that it is important that NATO should keep its eye on all present and planned installations there, including Norway's? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do to encourage NATO to show more activity and concern in this matter?

All NATO nations would not agree with the viewpoint of the hon. Gentleman that NATO should be involved primarily in the defence of the North Sea installations. Those who take a keen and detailed interest in defence affairs will know that there are countries on the northern flank which would hesitate to operate in that way. This was a meeting of officials of a number of countries—Dutch, German, French, Norwegian, Danish, Belgian and ourselves. We were trying to find how best to measure ways in which all our resources could be used against the threat of accident or malicious damage in the North Sea in peace time.

In the right hon. Gentleman's talks, did he get down in detail to what we are meant to be defending these installations against? He mentioned accident. Does he mean fishing hazards? Does he envisage that there will be any state of open war against these installations? Is it not essential to ascertain these facts before we can know how we can defend them? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the view of military authorities in Scotland, openly expressed, is that these installations are not defensible and that there is no way in which they can be defended?

I hope the hon. Lady will not try to build this up into a scare story. The North Sea rigs and installations are there, easily to be seen. Soviet naval gatherers occasionally come along to photograph and to measure them. If I were advising the House, I should say that this was not any military threat. It is because the Soviet Union needs commercial information to deal with undersea drill rigging itself. It wants to embark upon this. It lacks the technology. Our intelligence leads us to believe that, when the Russians carry out aerial photographic reconnaissance or when their intelligence-gathering vessels go nearby, it is to find out how commercially and technologically we have tackled this task.

Is not the suggestion that North Sea rigs are not able to be defended simply preposterous? What rôle do the Government see for Nimrods in North Sea defence?

As my hon. Friend probably knows, already we have two vessels patrolling the North Sea. We have another five vessels under consideration for contract especially for that purpose. We now have Shackletons, Vulcans, Buccaneers and also Nimrods on occasional surveillance activities for North Sea rigs.