HC Deb 28 October 1970 vol 805 cc222-3
44. Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he has completed his investigation into the rôle and cost of the Fleet Air Arm.

Lord Balniel

We have completed our study of the implications of some continuation of naval fixed-wing flying beyond 1972 and decided that although H.M.S. "Eagle" is to be paid off as planned, H.M.S. "Ark Royal" will be retained and run on as an aircraft carrier until the late 1970s. The cost will be met within the defence budget targets set out in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1970 (Cmnd. 4521) presented today.

Mr. Mackenzie

As it seems to many people that the Government have broken an important pledge which they gave to their supporters on the question of the Fleet Air Arm, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to say how he proposes to find the aircrew to man "Ark Royal" until 1972?

Lord Balniel

The manning of the ship will be achieved partially as a result of deployment within the Fleet and partially as a result of the decision in respect of the conversion of H.M.S. "Lion".

Mr. Wall

Accepting that it would be impossible at an early stage to man two aircraft carriers, may I ask my hon. Friend to say whether H.M.S. "Eagle" will be kept in reserve against any potential emergency?

Lord Balniel

H.M.S. "Eagle" will be paid off but, of course, the option will remain open.

Mr. George Thomson

Will the aircrew be provided in the latter years of the decade by the R.A.F. or by a continuation of the Fleet Air Arm? The answer to this question is not clear from the White Paper.

Lord Balniel

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman awaits the statement that is to be made on the White Paper.

Mr. Mayhew

Is it proposed to deploy "Ark Royal" east of Suez? If not, what air cover will be given to our ships there outside land-based aircraft range?

Lord Balniel

H.M.S. "Ark Royal" will be assigned to Saclant, as has been repeatedly requested, and therefore its major deployment will be in the Atlantic and Mediterranean; but, of course, it will be able to go to other parts of the world.

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