HC Deb 17 April 1973 vol 855 cc240-2
6. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will now make a statement on the employment of VSTOL aircraft by the Royal Navy.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

The project definition study of a maritime VSTOL aircraft for the Royal Navy is expected to be completed at the end of April. We expect to announce our decision on the project before Parliament rises for the Summer Recess.

Meanwhile I am glad to be able to announce that the order for the first through-deck cruiser has now been placed with Messrs. Vickers, Barrow. The ship is to be named HMS "Invincible".

Mr. Wall

I welcome the fact that at long last that we are to have an announcement in the House on the future of the vertical take-off aircraft in the Navy. Will my hon. Friend say when the statement will be made about which Service is to operate the aircraft?

Mr. Gilmour

I think my Friend slightly misunderstood my answer. I did not say that a decision had been taken on VSTOL aircraft but that a decision had been made about the building of the cruiser. As no decision on VSTOL has yet been announced, it would be premature to say which Service, if any, would fly the aircraft.

Mr. Judd

Does the Minister agree that future policy on through-deck cruisers is intimately related to the future of the vertical take-off aircraft and its use in the Navy? How soon will he clarify overall policy? If the Government decide to go ahead with vertical take-off aircraft, one through-deck cruiser will not make much sense.

Mr. Gilmour

Although the two things are connected, they are also at the same time fairly separate because the through-deck cruiser has other functions of command and control and in relation to the Sea King helicopter. Therefore, we would have proceeded with the through-deck cruiser—and indeed, we are proceeding with it—irrespective of whether we buy VSTOL aircraft.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I warmly welcome the ordering of HMS "Invincible" and I congratulate the Government on their efforts. Will my hon. Friend recognise that the two things are slightly connected and that during the Royal Air Force debate the Undersecretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, in the course of a wise and sensible passage in his speech about defence of trade overseas, said that the trade would be looked after? Does not this mean the use of seaborne aircraft in some shape or form?

Mr. Gilmour

They are connected in the sense that if the Navy has VSTOL aircraft they will fly from the cruiser. I am also saying that we shall have the cruiser in any event.

Dr. David Owen

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the unit cost of the cruisers, less aeroplanes or helicopters, is likely to be £70 million-plus? How many ships are likely to be purchased, and can this cost be maintained within the Ministry of Defence's long-term costings?

Mr. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman will know from his own experience in the Ministry of Defence that Her Majesty's Government are not accustomed to revealing the cost of any defence projects or to announcing in advance how many ships of a particular class will be built.