HC Deb 09 November 1976 vol 919 cc198-9
8. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied that the number of major surface combatants larger than a destroyer, expected to be fully available to the operational fleet in the next few months, is adequate for the Royal Navy to be able to perform its tasks.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. A. E. P. Duffy)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Trotter

Does the hon. Gentleman confirm that, apart from the tank landing ship HMS "Fearless", which has no defensive weapons, there will have been a period this year when the only large warship in service with the Royal Navy was the cruiser HMS "Tiger"? Is it not an astonishing feat to have only one vessel of any size in the Royal Navy for the first time in history? Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there can be no further cuts in the strength of the Royal Navy?

Mr. Duffy

The major surface ships that will be operational in the next few months are HMS "Hermes", HMS "Tiger" and HMS "Fearless". The hon. Gentleman's deep knowledge of naval matters will make him understand my confidence that we have the number and size of ships to meet our commitments. I assure the House that the Royal Navy will continue to be in a position to meet its national and NATO commitments.

Mr. Hooley

Is my hon. Friend aware that if the Government carry out their policy of declaring an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles around our coasts we shall need a lot of ships not bigger than destroyers but smaller than destroyers, in view of the policing duties involved?

Mr. Duffy

Yes. I have informed the House of the position on previous occasions, notably during an Adjournment debate. The first of the Island class of patrol boats, designed specifically for this purpose, will become operational during the current year, and by the end of next year all will be in service. In addition, from 1st January, four Nimrods will also be available for this purpose, and for inshore purposes the Bird class patrol boats will be available. This is in addition to what the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Scottish Office provide.

Mr. Younger

Because of the shortage of these vessels the Royal Navy has already been unable to meet its commitments this year. Did it not have to use British Rail ferries to take British troops to Norway? Was not that an extremely unsound operational thing to do? Will the hon. Gentleman see that it does not happen again?

Mr. Duffy

In September, Marines and Army personnel were transported to Norway by commercial operators for the NATO "Teamwork" exercise. Despite the reduction in specialised reinforcement shipping as a result of the defence review, there is still available HMS "Hermes", in her secondary rôle, and the LSLs will be sufficient for many years to come to meet our requirements, supplemented, if necessary, from commercial resources under long-standing arrangements.