asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his policy towards the employment of British vessels and crews in relation to hydrographical surveys which his Department undertakes in the North sea; and why Dutch and Danish survey ships have been chartered recently for such work.
A programme of hydrographic surveys to meet civil requirements is drawn up each year by my Department and the Department of Transport. The 1987 programme includes a hydrographic survey of part of the North sea. The task of carrying out the survey was put out to contract by my Department following competitive tender. It is the responsibility of the contractor to provide the vessels required, if necessary by chartering them. We cannot oblige the contractor to use British-flag vessels, although we naturally prefer that he should do so, and this is stated in the contract. In this case we understand that the contractor was unable to agree terms for the charter of British-flag vessels.