§ 13. Mr. Loyden
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the present number of Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels in commission.
§ Mr. Archie Hamilton
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary currently has 22 vessels in commission; II tankers, four replenishment ships, five landing ships logistic, a helicopter support ship and a forward repair ship.
§ Mr. Loyden
Is it not a disgrace that, during the Gulf war, out of the more than 100 ships that were commissioned, only four or five were British owned and flagged? When will the Government recognise that they must support the British merchant fleet so that, when vessels are needed they are available, rather than the Government having to use foreign-flagged and registered ships? When will they wake up to the fact that the British merchant fleet must be stimulated so that the ships are there when needed?
§ Mr. Hamilton
During the Gulf war, most of the British ships that we might have chartered were occupied doing other things and were not available for charter, so we chartered on the open market and satisfactorily proved that we could get supplies to the Gulf during the war without needing British ships. We keep the British register under careful review and would be concerned if the numbers of merchant ships were declining too fast. The situation is not yet drastic.