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Indian Ocean: Joint Maritime Exercises

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 23 November 1977

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether vessels of the Royal Navy are to participate in a joint maritime exercise in the Indian Ocean and, if so, what other navies are participating.

My Lords, ships of a Royal Navy Task Group have just taken part in a joint maritime exercise in the Indian Ocean with our CENTO allies. As well as the Royal Navy, the navies of the United States, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan were involved. The Task Group is shortly due to conduct exercises with the United States and Australian navies as it crosses the Indian Ocean en route for the Far East and Australia.

My Lords, is not this action rather provocative? In view of the statement made by the President of the United States of America that he is in favour of the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean and is prepared to undertake substantial withdrawals from Diego Garcia, would it not be better for Her Majesty's Government to be supporting those proposals?

My Lords, I am simply not here to answer for the President of the United States of America; I can only answer for Her Majesty's Government.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Australia has now supported the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean, and that every nation surrounding the Indian Ocean is now supporting that proposal?

My Lords, so far as I understand the position, the Australian Government are anxious to exercise with the Royal Navy.

My Lords, will the noble Lord give us the figures for the growth of the USSR navy in the Indian Ocean in the recent decade? Has there been any suggestion on their part that they should start withdrawing ships after they have built up this very considerable strength?

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that so long as the Russians are making themselves felt in the Indian Ocean it would be silly for us to withdraw?

My Lords, is the noble Lord also aware that the charge against the Soviet Union's strength was that they had a base in Somaliland? In view of the fact that the Russians have now been excluded from Somaliland, does that charge not disappear?