HC Deb 27 April 1982 vol 22 cc715-6
16. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will now retain HMS "Hermes" in service till the end of the decade.

Mr. Blaker

As we explained in Cmnd. 8288, our general strategy involves keeping two carriers in service throughout the 1980s and beyond. We therefore plan to phase out HMS "Hermes" once HMS "Ark Royal" joins the Fleet.

Mr. Trotter

The departure of HMS "Invincible" and HMS "Hermes" for the South Atlantic at 72 hours' notice was a great achievement for both the Navy and the dockyards, but does my hon. Friend agree that we were fortunate that one of those carriers was not in for a refit at the time? Does he further agree that it is not merely desirable, but essential, that there should be three major ships if two are to be available for service at any time, as is clearly necessary?

Mr. Blaker

My hon. Friend will take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that the strategy set out in Cmnd. 8288 was designed with the point in mind that the main threat comes from the Soviet Union. I remind my hon. Friend that by 1985 we shall have in service two aircraft carriers that will be a good deal more powerful than the two that we have now.

Mr. Jay

In view of the great success of the task force, will the Government cancel the sale of HMS "Invincible" to Australia?

Mr. Blaker

No, we cannot cancel the sale of HMS "Invincible" to Australia, as it has already been agreed. I repeat my right hon. Friend's point that when the Falkland Islands crisis is over we shall consider whether any adjustments are needed within the general strategy, but the general strategy set out in Cmnd. 8288 remains valid.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not clear that in the years ahead the Royal Navy will need to have two carriers ready for sea at any moment? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is impossible with a two-carrier fleet? Will the Government therefore consider the fact that, in terms of cost-effectiveness, increasing the fleet to three carriers will double the number of carriers that can be put to sea? Should not that be the purpose of an addendum to the defence White Paper?

Mr. Blaker

I am not sure that my hon. Friend is right to say that such an increase will double the number of carriers that can be put to sea. If we have two, two will be available for two-thirds of the time. I cannot add to the reply given to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay).

Mr. Wellbeloved

Is it true that HMS "Hermes" uses the same type of fuel as HMS "Britannia"?

Mr. Blaker

Yes, that is true, but if the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that as a reason for sending HMS "Britannia" on the task force he is on unsound ground, as it would have required an extra Royal Fleet Auxiliary to be sent especially for HMS "Britannia", which would have been extremely uneconomic.

Mr. Cormack

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agreed with our right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that lessons might be learnt and that there is nothing to be ashamed of in that, is not the retention of HMS "Hermes" and HMS "Invincible" a lesson that we might consider learning?

Mr. Blaker

I have already replied to a question about HMS "Invincible". I cannot add to what I said in response to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is the Minister aware that if General Galtieri had waited a few months we should not have had a task force to send to the South Atlantic, because HMS "Hermes" would have been in the knacker's yard and HMS "Invincible" would have been on the way to Australia? Why do the Government not admit that their defence strategy, especially their naval strategy, is in ruins and that the Secretary of State's tenure at the Ministry of Defence has been disastrous?

Mr. Blaker

Once again the right hon. Gentleman is extremely badly briefed. I do not know how he can be ignorant of the fact that HMS "Hermes" will remain in service until 1985.

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