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Hydrographer To The Navy

Volume 972: debated on Tuesday 30 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what reductions are envisaged in the work of the Hydrographer to the Navy, in the light of current cuts in public expenditure.

Unhappily, I was not here to listen to that fascinating debate. Will the Minister confirm that the Hydrographer will be given all facilities to discharge his very important functions, particularly in the light of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone which we and other countries now have, and bearing in mind the importance to developing countries of surveys round their coasts, with which we can help?

I cannot give the hon. Member and open-ended commitment, any more than I was able to give my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) one last night. I said last night that we are reviewing the civil hydrography conclusions reached by the previous Administration. However, I certainly underline the importance of hydrography, both in terms of civil and defence needs. I can say nothing more than that we are reviewing the previous Administration's conclusions.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the work of the Hydrographer is an essential precondition of an effective anti-submarine warfare programme? Does he agree that, far from cutting any work which may have an impact on this area the Government should be carefully considering increasing it?

I affirm that, and of course I affirm that defence is the first priority of my Department.

If the Minister is reviewing the role and the amount of money that can be given to the Hydrographer, will he look into the question of the staff at Bath, particularly the naval architectural staff there, and see whether he is satisfied with the work that they are doing, or whether they are too conservative? Could not some of that work be referred out to private practice?

The Hydrography department is in Taunton, so that issue does not arise on this question.