HC Deb 23 May 1978 vol 950 cc1307-8
1. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects HMS "Ark Royal" to be withdrawn from service.

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

Our intention is that HMS "Ark Royal" should pay off at the end of this year.

Mr. Brotherton

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what representations have been received from our NATO allies, particularly the United States, about the decision to phase out HMS "Ark Royal"? Secondly, will he tell us how long it will be after the "Ark Royal" has been phased out that the new through-deck cruiser will come into service, thereby telling us the period when there is no fixed-wing air support for the fleet?

Mr. Duffy

The hon. Gentleman will understand that such a departure should be a matter of profound interest to our NATO allies. I was glad to be in a position at Easter to discuss the matter with the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, when I visited him in North Virginia. Like our other allies, he understands why we need to act in fulfilment of longstanding plans, especially in support areas. The first through-deck cruiser is expected to become operational in the early 1980s, and I understand that my right hon. Friend will be making an early announcement about a further through-deck cruiser.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with future arrangements for air protection for the Fleet in the 1980s?

Mr. Duffy

Yes, Sir, because the responsibility for fleet air defence will be transferred to the RAF. When the Sea Harriers are deployed afloat, they will be used to complement land-based air defence forces and provide quick reaction capability. In addition, of course, we shall benefit from the mutual support that we receive from our NATO allies.

Mr. Trotter

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the United States Navy proposes to keep in service for a further 20 years aircraft carriers commissioned at the same time as HMS "Ark Royal"? Can he advise the House of a single reason for the removal from the fleet of the one remaining conventional carrier, the most powerful ship in the Navy, without any direct replacement, other than the reason of the Government's defence cuts?

Mr. Duffy

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but he will be the first to recognise that there is nothing I can say now in furtherance of the reply that he was given on this very question on 9th May.

Mr. Churchill

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we already have far too few air defence aircraft to protect even the United Kingdom, let alone to provide cover for the fleet until 1985 or beyond, when the ADV starts coming into service? Will there not be a severe gap in protection for the Royal Navy during that period, or will it not be at the expense of the United Kingdom itself?

Mr. Duffy

No, Sir. There will be no such gap, on the basis of the reply that I have already given to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams).

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