HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc137-8
6. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on Britain's amphibious capability.

Mr. Alan Clark

The United Kingdom will be retaining an amphibious capability. We intend to replace and modernise the specialist shipping which supports our amphibious forces.

Mr. Townsend

Does my right hon. Friend recall that Iraq had to deploy a number of forces on the Kuwaiti coast to deal with the potential amphibious landing? Is not it essential that, when we are reducing the size of our standing Army in Germany, we should retain a strong amphibious capability and that early plans should be produced for the replacement of HMS Fearless and Intrepid?

Mr. Clark

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I value his support and I hope that we shall be referring to this later at greater length. My hon. Friend is right that an amphibious capability is inseparable from our approach which, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, is smaller but better. The better means being more flexible, more responsive, harder hitting and faster reacting and an amphibious capability is an essential component of that.

Sir Patrick Duffy

It is one thing to acknowledge, as the Minister does, the need for flexibility and mobility and the implications that were made clear in yesterday's debate about force projection and even out-of-area, but we need the means of tranferring our armed forces into those areas. When will the Government's undertakings, which have been freely and helpfully given, be translated into budgetary commitments?

Mr. Clark

I shall have more to say about that later this afternoon, but my respect for the hon. Gentleman is such that I shall allow him to draw from me the assurance that I expect to award the project definition contract next month.

Mr. Trotter

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Swan Hunter has spent considerable time and skill on considering what might be done to enhance our amphibious capability? Will he confirm that a helicopter-carrying aviation support ship could figure in those plans?

Mr. Clark

Yes, I gladly confirm that. I very much appreciate the skilful and inventive qualities of all our shipyards and the amount of time that they devote to this subject, which is extending and projecting our amphibious power.

Mr. Boyes

I welcome the Minister's statement that there will be a replacement for Intrepid and Fearless. Labour welcomes that and we hope that it can be kept to time and that there is not the same slippage as there has been with the type 23 frigates. Given yesterday's announcement that Endurance is being replaced by a boat that will be leased from Norway, will he give a categorical assurance that, first, the replacement will be a new-build boat rather than one leased from another country and, secondly, that it will be built in the United Kingdom and that tenders will not be invited from shipyards abroad?

Mr. Clark

I can certainly give the latter assurance. I shall deal with this later, but I cannot resist a dig at the hon. Gentleman, who referred last night to the need for stability in our warship ordering. I do not know whether he was articulating Labour party policy, but the stability that he envisages would hang pretty heavily over the dole queues in our shipbuilding cities.