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Fishery Protection

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are his plans for further improvement of the system of patrolling and protecting the fishing rights of the United Kingdom in coastal waters.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is now satisfied with the new Island class of vessels in the extended fishery protection rôle.

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the existing measures for fishery protection; and what further steps he proposes to improve these.

I have no reason to doubt the effectiveness of our arrangements for fishery protection, but they are kept under constant review.

Three more offshore patrol vessels of the Island class are due to be delivered to the Royal Navy before the end of the year. Our experience with the first two, HMS "Jersey" and HMS "Orkney", indicates that the class will prove to be most effective in the fishery protection rôle. Studies are in hand regarding the provision of new ships to replace the Ton class minesweepers in the Fishery Protection Squadron.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a good many people in the country think that our patrol boats are not fast enough to catch the fishing boats? If that is so, is it not rather ludicrous to have patrol boats that are not fast enough to catch the pirates? Will my hon. Friend assure us that our patrol boats can catch boats of other countries that fish in our coastal waters?

I have told the House before that the maximum speed of the Island class is 16 knots, and that that is sufficient for normal patrol duties. Contrary to popular belief, very few trawlers are capable of 16 knots, and when they are fishing they are going at only 3–5 knots. Faster ships such as frigates can be called upon at short notice to support the patrol ships if the need arises. Considering the time available for procurement, and the total cost of £17½ million, we believe that we are getting good value for money with the Island class. I spent yesterday at sea on HMS "Orkney", the second of its class, and for most of the time our speed exceeded 16 knots.

The Minister and I both agree that peace-keeping must be efficient and must be seen to be efficient. We must enforce the limits. In the first six months, how many boardings, arrests and fines have taken place?

It is an impressive record, further vindicating our judgment in putting in hand the Island class as well as providing otherwise for fisheries protection. Between 1st January and 16th May this year there have been 500 boardings of foreign fishing vessels and seven boardings of British fishing vessels, of which approximately 60 have been carried out by the new Island class. There have been four arrests resulting in convictions for contraventions of fisheries legislation within the old 12-mile limit and nine such cases in the 12-mile to 200-mile belt. Hon. Members may have noticed in the Press today that HMS "Jersey", the first of the new class, arrested a French trawler only yesterday.

Does the Minister accept that a large body of opinion believes that there should be a new class of strong, fast, tough surface vessels, but that the Government's defence cuts have in practice put that out of the question?

In so far as there is such a body of opinion, I am always anxious to register it within it the Department. I have met hon. Gentlemen, some of whom are present now, in my Department to discuss their ideas. I am prepared to meet any others. We are thinking not merely about replacing the Ton class but about our next generation of patrol ships.

Is the Minister aware that while the Island class may do well as the policemen on the beat, there is a need for a small number of fast, quick reaction vessels which will be useful to the Royal Navy armed with missiles in time of war? Will he give this matter serious consideration? We have been advancing this view now for two years.

As I have just said, our options are open. A need of the kind described by the hon. Gentleman has not arisen. HMS "Jersey" was not lacking in speed yesterday. The Island class so far has not been lacking in speed.