HC Deb 22 June 1972 vol 839 cc693-4
5. Mr. Luce

asked the Minister of State for Defence what progress is being made on the planning of the through-deck cruiser; and what year it is intended to commission the first one.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Ian Gilmour)

Good progress is being made on the design of the through-deck cruiser under the shipbuilders involvement contract recently placed with Messrs. Vickers. We hope to order the first ship towards the end of this financial year and our plans provide for her acceptance into service in 1978.

Mr. Luce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree, however, that for the foreseeable future Britain requires effective seaborne air support to fulfil our overseas interests and obligations? Does he accept that with the scrapping of the "Eagle" and the intermittent availability of the aircraft carrier "Ark Royal" until 1978, our ability to fulfil that rôle will be severely limited? Will he therefore urgently consider speeding up the production of the new through-deck cruiser?

Mr. Gilmour

Wider questions of naval strategy are rather beyond the subject matter of the Question. I do not think there is any chance of our being able to speed up plans for the through-deck cruiser, which are going very well.

Mr. Dalyell

The current estimated cost is £60 million?

Mr. Gilmour

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was asking a question. If he was, he must know the answer. We do not make comments on questions of that sort.

Mr. Wall

Has my hon. Friend yet made up his mind whether the ships will operate vertical take-off aircraft? If not, are they worth the £60 million referred to?

Mr. Gilmour

First, I did not refer to the £60 million. Secondly, my hon. Friend has a Question on this subject later.

Mr. John Morris

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us the intended rate of ordering and how many through-deck cruisers the Government intend to order? Is it not the case that the peak expenditure on through-deck cruisers may well coincide with a great part of the expenditure on multi-rôle combat aircraft and that there may well be other projects as well? Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House as soon as may be, perhaps today but certainly in the next White Paper, how it is proposed to finance these ventures?

Mr. Gilmour

I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman any more about the rate of ordering than he knows. He knows when the expenditure on the MRCA will fall, and he also knows that the financing of these ventures will come out of the defence budget.