Aircraft Carriers

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 December 1969.

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Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames 12:00, 3 December 1969

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has reconsidered his decision to eliminate aircraft carriers from the Royal Navy.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has for a British carrier force in the 1970s.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

I have nothing to add to the answer my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) and other hon. Members on 7th May.—[Vol. 783, c. 440–2.]

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

Does that answer mean that the Secretary of State is not at all affected or concerned by the massive expression of disquiet by both professional naval and lay opinion about the weakness of the Fleet in the early 1970s without carriers? Will he not at least keep the matter open by providing for recruitment of Fleet Air Arm pilots to be maintained?

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

As my right hon. Friend explained on 7th May, the present task of the carriers will be phased out after the ending of the Far East and Gulf commitments in December 1971. There are a number of options as to what can be done with them. They can either be scrapped, sold or given a new rôle. Each of these possibilities is still open for the carriers.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Does the Minister realise that this statement means that there will be a complete power vacuum in the Middle and Far East when these carriers are withdrawn? Is he prepared to accept that, in view of the obvious expansionist policies of China and Russia in the immediate future?

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

We have debated the issue of the carriers at length on a large number of occasions in this House. My right hon. Friend has made the Government's policy quite clear.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Are arrangements being made for tests of the Harrier from the aircraft carriers, and what is the point of having these tests if it is not intended to keep the carriers from which to use the Harriers?

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

There is a separate Question on this. Perhaps we might wait until we reach it.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied that Great Britain has adequate over-flying rights in all circumstances and adequate available airfields from which the Royal Air Force can operate with certainty, once the aircraft carried force is phased out; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The hon. Member can rest assured that we shall not in future engage in major operations except in circumstances in which the facilities for their effective conduct are available to us.

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

Will the Minister say how many of these over-flying rights have ceased to become available since the decision to phase out the carriers and how many of the airfields available to the R.A.F. are no longer available? Will he publish the fullest information about this in the Library?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The hon. Member's supplementary question seems to be based on the same supposition as that of his original Question, which seemed to suggest that we might undertake major operations without the co-operation of our allies. That seems inconceivable.