HC Deb 17 February 1972 vol 831 cc607-8
22. Mr. Wilkinson

asked the Minister of Sate for Defence what is his estimate of the availability of air power for strike, air defence, anti-submarine, and airborne early warning operations to the fleet consequent upon the proposed scrapping of Her Majesty's Ship "Eagle" and when Her Majesty's Ship "Ark Royal" is undergoing refit.

Mr. Kirk

Air power available for maritime operations will comprise the aircraft complement of H.M.S. "Ark Royal" operating from the ship or from shore during refit periods: helicopters carried in other ships: aircraft of the R.A.F. and of allied navies and air forces. It would be contrary to normal practice to give numbers of aircraft in these categories.

Mr. Wilkinson

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I draw his attention to a letter which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 14th February from the Chairman of the Air League, who is an illustrious naval aviator? Does he not agree that, with the surface-to-surface weaponry now possessed by the Soviet Navy, there will be a necessity in the immediate future for integral airborne strike capability for the fleet, and that this can be maintained, when "Ark Royal" is refitting, only with aircraft from H.M.S. "Eagle"?

Mr. Kirk

It could not be maintained on "Eagle" without "Eagle" herself being refitted at considerable cost both in terms of money and manpower. I do not suggest that the present solution we have reached is ideal, but it is a compromise which gives us 65 per cent. cover. Furthermore, it is unwise to overlook the capacity of our allies.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Should not my hon. Friend more accurately and concisely have replied that, if the Government scrap H.M.S. "Eagle", it will be tying the Navy's fists behind its back as well as gouging out its eyes?

Mr. Kirk

No, Sir.