HC Deb 14 January 1975 vol 884 cc172-4
12. Miss Richardson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give the number of through-deck cruisers to be made available to the Royal Navy; what is the delivery schedule; and what is the cost per vessel.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Frank Judd)

HMS "Invincible", the first of the new class of anti-submarine cruisers, will enter service towards the end of the decade. I am afraid that it would be premature to give information on the future programme or costs.

Miss Richardson

Will my hon. Friend say when he will be able to give such a time scale? Does he agree in anticipation that this is an expensive programme? Does he agree that the money might be better spent on building more homes or in allowing local authorities more subsidies so that they do not have to increase rents—a matter that we may be discussing later today?

Mr. Judd

I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that it is not our practice to reveal numbers in our future shipbuilding plans. All I can say is that we are planning a class of these ships. I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that on the ground of economy there is a strong case for such ships. The anti-submarine capability of the cruiser will be much greater than that of all the frigates we could purchase with the same money.

Mr. Buck

Is the Minister aware that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be glad that he is now confirming that there will not be only one ship of this type but that there will be others? It will, therefore, be the first of a class of ship. Is the hon. Gentleman able to tell us anything about whether it will be equipped with the maritime Harrier?

Mr. Judd

Like a number of other projects, the maritime Harrier is under consideration. A decision will be announced as soon as possible. As the hon. and learned Gentleman is aware, the case for the cruiser does not depend upon the maritime Harrier. Obviously the development of such aircraft would enhance the capabilities of the ship.

Mr. Newens

Is it a wise decision, even from the point of view of those who believe in increased defence expenditure, to go ahead with the ship when no decision has been made on the maritime Harrier? If the decision is made not to go ahead with the maritime Harrier we may well be wasting our money, even in the eyes of those who believe in this unnecessary ship.

Mr. Judd

With great respect, I believe that my hon. Friend misunderstands the situation. The primary capability of this ship will be the deployment of many Sea King anti-submarine helicopters, each with about the same capability as a frigate. It will significantly enhance the Royal Navy's anti-submarine capability.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is the Minister aware that discussion on the maritime Harrier continues month after month and year after year with no decision being made? Surely he accepts the necessity of these aircraft for the Royal Navy, and surely a decision should be forthcoming more or less immediately.

Mr. Judd

The matter is actively under consideration. I can assure the hon. Member, whose interest I have appreciated and noted for a long time, that we shall delay no longer than necessary in coming to our conclusions.