§ 1. Commander Courtney
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what limitations will be necessary on the operation of Phantom aircraft from existing fleet carriers; when he intends to order a second replacement carrier; and if he will make a statement on aircraft carrier policy in the light of the changing situation east of Suez.
§ 52. Mr. Hamling
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what changes he will make in carrier policy in the light of the operational experience of Phantom aircraft.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
No operational limitations will be imposed on the Royal Navy version of the Phantom as a result of its operation from the existing fleet carriers in which we plan to embark it after some modifications. No decision about ordering a second replacement carrier will be made until the current defence review is complete. The deployment of aircraft carriers and Commando ships east of Suez is flexible, but we normally reckon to keep three of these ships operational there.
§ Commander Courtney
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the policy of the Government remains the same as that of the previous Administration, namely, to keep two fleet carriers at any one time east of Suez, and can he explain how that can be done without ordering more carriers, as the "Ark Royal" and "Victorious" will shortly reach the end of their useful life?
§ Mr. Healey
As I understand it, the policy of the last Government was to maintain a force of three carriers, which would not in all circumstances guarantee the presence of two carriers east of Suez. The policy of the present Government, as the House has often been informed, is under review in the light of the general review of defence policy as a whole.
§ Mr. Hamling
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how far the 817 Phantom aircraft compares in performance with the existing carrier-borne aircraft and why it has taken so long to get an effective aeroplane of that sort in the Royal Naval service?
§ Mr. Healey
With respect, I think that most of that supplementary question would be better addressed to the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft).