HC Deb 01 May 1968 vol 763 cc1089-90
17. Mr.. Goodhew

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what aircraft are to provide the land-based air cover for the Royal Navy when the aircraft carriers are withdrawn from service.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

All operational aircraft of the R.A.F. will be available to provide air support for the fleet. But the Nimrod, Buccaneer, and Phantom are the types most relevant to this task.

Mr. Goodhew

Is the Minister really satisfied that this will give the long range cover which the Navy expects? Is he not aware that only a few weeks ago his right hon. Friend from that very bench was saying that the Navy would rely on it in future, and now that both aircraft carriers and F111, which was to have replaced TSR2, have disappeared, what is he going to do about it?

Mr. Rees

There are two factors which the hon. Member should bear in mind. The first is the policy decision to withdraw from the Far East, and the second is that it was never the intention to use carriers for the protection of the Fleet in the Atlantic area. The pull-out from the Far East makes the use of the land-based aircraft for the protection of the Fleet more practicable.

Captain W. Elliot

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is deceiving himself and the country if he tries to put forward the view that air cover for the Fleet is provided by shore-based aircraft?

Mr. Rees

I would have thought that history showed that in land-locked waters in Europe protection of the Navy by land-based aircraft is very much a possibility. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we take advice from Service quarters on this which is available to us as well as that of the hon. Gentleman.