§ The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Dr. David Owen)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will answer Question No. 58.
The Naval Air Command recommended that since the only operational Fleet Air Arm squadrons which could have been made available were committed to a major programme of aircraft replacement and modification during this summer they should not take part in the Farnborough Air Show this year.
§ Dr. Owen
I cannot see why hon. Members have any cause for dissatisfaction. Are they seriously suggesting that we should go against the recommendations of the Naval Air Command? This was a unanimous recommendation from the Naval Staff. There has been no political interference in it.
Furthermore, at the latter part of the 1968 Farnborough Air Show, a commentator said that he thought that it might well be the last time that a major part of the Fleet Air Arm took part. The people who saw the Farnborough Air Show were well aware, even in 1968, that that was likely to be the last occasion when the Fleet Air Arm flew at the show.
409 Hon. Members opposite should accept that there has been no political interference and that the story which was reported on the front page of a prominent Sunday newspaper has no foundation in fact.
§ Mr. Rippon
Is the Minister aware that we regret very much that the Government feel it necessary to shelter not only behind their official advisers, but, apparently, also behind a commentator? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this decision by the Government is deeply regretted?
§ Dr. Owen
All decisions affecting the Services are made by the Government as a whole. On this occasion, the recommendation from the Naval Air Command was that the Fleet Air Arm should not take part. [Interruption.] The allegation from hon. Members opposite is that there has been political interference. I reject the allegation that there has been political interference.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
It is a complete lie.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
On a point of order. The word "lie" came out of the mouth of the Secretary of State for Defence. It was levelled at this side of the House. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to direct the Secretary of State for Defence to withdraw the allegation that my hon. Friend who put the Question or my right hon. and learned Friend was lying.
§ Mr. Healey
I should like to make clear that the word "lie" which I used—under my breath, as I thought—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—referred to the statement in the Sunday Telegraph by Mr. Desmond Wettorn which, so far as I know, has not yet been quoted in the House.