HC Deb 20 January 1972 vol 829 cc650-1
16. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Minister of State for Defence how many Shackleton aircraft are now in service with the Royal Air Force; and how soon he expects them to be phased out.

Mr. Lambton

The replacement of the long-range maritime reconnaissance force Shackletons by Nimrods is now virtually complete. As previously announced, some Shackleton aircraft are being converted to provide airborne early warning over the sea; these aircraft will become operational in the course of the year.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer but he does not tell me whether there are Shackleton aircraft still in service and, if so, how many. May I assume that the order for Nimrod, of which we read in this morning's newspapers and which we all welcome, means that the Shackle-ton will be phased out more quickly than hitherto planned?

Mr. Lambton

It is not the custom to give figures of the numbers of aircraft in service. The Shackleton has a remarkable period of service behind it and is still being used successfully in various theatres.

Mr. Onslow

Will my hon. Friend say whether the Nimrod order is complete or whether more aircraft are to be ordered? This is a matter of some importance.

Mr. Lambton

This order takes us considerably into the future. The future will bring up various problems which will be met when the time arises.

Mr. George Thomson

Is the Minister aware that the order announced yesterday for eight additional Nimrods will be very welcome in Lancashire in terms of relieving unemployment? Is he also aware that this by no means goes to the root of the employment problem in the aircraft industry in that part of the country and that what we need from the Government is a much more thorough and effective national policy for the aerospace industry?

Mr. Lambton

I cannot help thinking that this comes rather oddly from the right hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench who reduced the Royal Air Force to the level we found on coming into office. We have since considerably added to its strength.