HC Deb 04 February 1970 vol 795 cc416-8
30. Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many months of operational service H.M.S. "Eagle" and H.M.S. "Ark Royal", respectively, will undertake after their modernisation and before it is planned to reduce them to reserve.

Mr. Healey

H.M.S. "Eagle's" modernisation was finished in 1964 and H.M.S. "Ark Royal's" special refit is being completed now. Both ships will remain in service until the withdrawals from Malaysia, Singapore and the Gulf have been completed in 1971.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

The Secretary of State has not answered the Question, which asks how many months of operational service these ships will undertake. Does it not seem rather ridiculous to spend over £30 million on modernising "Ark Royal" and then plan to have only a few months of operational service before withdrawing this marvellous and modern warship?

Mr. Healey

Nearly three years have to pass before the end of 1972 and a final decision on the use of these vessels or their disposal. Up to the end of 1971 is the period during which they will be operationally required in potential situations while our forces are still east of Suez. It is planned to withdraw them from fixed-wing flying during the following year, which is two years from now, but no final decision has yet been taken on their future after they are withdrawn from fixed-wing flying.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Will my right hon. Friend come clean with the House and state whether there has been a major change of policy in regard to carriers?

Mr. Healey

There has been no major change of policy in regard to carriers. I faintly resent my hon. Friend's suggestion that I have not come clean with the House on that.

48. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how much public money has been spent during the past two years in modernising the aircraft carriers "Ark Royal" and "Eagle", respectively; and when it is proposed to place these ships to reserve.

Mr. Healey

During the two years 1968 and 1969, about £23 million was spent on H.M.S. "Ark Royal" and a little over £1 million on H.M.S. "Eagle". Of these sums about one-third related to the fixed overhead costs of running the dockyards. No decision has yet been taken to place these ships in reserve.

Mr. Fisher

How long could the active life of these two ships be after modernisation but for the right hon. Gentleman's decision to scrap them? If he is still determined to scrap them, why has he wasted so much public money in modernising them?

Mr. Healey

Perhaps I can try to explain this to the hon. Gentleman. These two ships, if they run on through the 1970s, as they could in terms of hull life, would require a number more of very expensive refits. The question when to withdraw them from service is not yet finally decided, but, as I announced earlier, they will be withdrawn from fixed-wing flying in 1972, when the requirement for carriers potentially to protect our withdrawal from the Gulf and east of Suez has lapsed. I do not think that any hon. Member would have wanted us to withdraw the carriers from the fixed-wing-flying rôle before that withdrawal was complete. I understand that the Opposition propose to keep them in service as long as they keep forces in the Far East, if the Opposition are ever elected to power.

Mr. Snow

When a decision is taken to put these aircraft carriers either out of operation or into reserve, will it be possible to flog them to Australia—I hope that that is not a pejorative word? Australia appears to want to build up its forces in the Far East, has a lot of money and frequently reminds us that we should buy its agricultural products.

Mr. Healey

I have several times discussed in the House potential uses for these vessels after they are withdrawn from their fixed-wing flying role, and I should prefer not to take up the time of the House further on that matter.

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