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North Atlantic (Naval Strategy)

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning Royal Navy strategy in the north Atlantic.

The Royal Navy's strategy in the north Atlantic was described in the 1987 Statement on the Defence Estimates, at paragraphs 404 and 405, to which I have nothing to add.

Will not the Royal Navy's strategy be subsumed by the interests of the United States because of the deployment of sea-launched cruise missiles? Is it not a fact that even the Navy's rules of engagement are being changed to suit the interests of the United States rather than British interests? Will the Minister come clean about this?

The strategy of the Royal Navy is part of the strategy of the navies of NATO, and the rules of engagement, like all other aspects, are resolved within NATO by agreement between all its members.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Royal Navy's strategic options have broadened somewhat since 1979 in view of three facts: in 1979 we had not a single carrier-borne fixed-wing aircraft—[interruption]

I was asking my hon. Friend whether our strategic options had broadened since 1979, as then we had no carrier-borne fixed-wing aircraft, only one frigate in the Royal Navy with a hard kill anti-missile system and no credible modern torpedo suitable for modern warfare on any of our submarines.

It is our policy to keep the Royal Navy up to date. Indeed, that is why we have been introducing so many new ships. Since the Government came to power in 1979 we have ordered 60 major ships for the Royal Navy, about half of which have still to enter service. Ten of the ships still on order are frigates, and the value of the investment represented by ships still on order is £4 billion.

The Minister said nothing about the need for modern and adequate mine-counter measures, which seems incredible in view of fairly recent developments. Can he assure the House that these will be available by the early 1990s, given the present very unsatisfactory state of the modernisation programme?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of mine-counter measure vessels, as do the Government. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have a programme of introducing Hunter class and single role mine hunters, and the success of our vessels in the Gulf has shown how very good their equipment and manpower are.

Will the Minister outline the attitude of the other northern members of the Alliance who are participating in the review of combined maritime policies and tell the House whether they support Britain's attitude of slavish acceptance of United States maritime strategy in northern waters?

The whole maritime strategy of all partners in NATO in the NATO context is defensive.