HL Deb 30 July 1980 vol 412 cc865-7

2.42 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state what is the future for HMS "Ark Royal".

Viscount LONG

My Lords, following the invitation of tenders to purchase "Ark Royal" for scrapping, the Admiralty Board has accepted a bid from Kitson Vickers Limited of Blyth, Northumberland, and a contract has been awarded to the firm, as announced by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State, Royal Navy, in another place on 18th July.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he does not consider it unfortunate that the demise of HMS "Ark Royal" should have been announced on a Friday in a Written Answer in another place? May I offer a tribute to the Royal Navy, the 230 officers, 2,380 ratings and airmen who have served on her over many years; and also pay tribute to the thousands of workmen in the Devonport Dockyard who refitted her over the years, particularly the last refit in 1967 under very difficult conditions when the ship was commissioned on time by Her Majesty the Queen Mother? Can the noble Lord also say why there was no acceptance of the offer by the committee dealing with the "Ark Royal" to turn it into a museum?

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I do not think I can answer the noble Baroness's first question on the procedure of another place when the question of the "Ark Royal" was dealt with in a written reply. I should like to join my noble friend and other noble Lords in paying tribute to this great and gallant ship, the "Ark Royal", for her marvellous and gallant services in the defence of our country. I would also like to join my noble friend in paying tribute to the officers and men, those who built her and designed her, and those who served on board her over the years.

If I heard my noble friend aright, she was asking about the committee that was set up. There was a series of inquiries from different trusts; these were narrowed down to one trust, which was the "Ark Royal" Trust, formed to preserve her. At this moment of time the "Ark Royal" is in such bad condition that it has been realised that she must, unfortunately, go to the scrapyard at the end of August.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the City of Leeds adopted the "Ark Royal" as their particular ship and had great association with the men and the officers who served on her? I am sure the citizens will feel sad at the rather ignominious end of this great warship.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. Of course, in the trust there were a great many naval people. It is a very sad day, knowing that such a great ship has had to go.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that those of us who served in capital ships during the war very much regret that it was not possible to preserve a battleship? Can further consideration be given to the preserving of this splendid ship as one of the great symbols of our national heritage?

Viscount LONG

My Lords, in answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, in 1978, when the ship had to have her equipment taken out, there were inquiries made by the Board of Admiralty to see if anybody was interested. Unfortunately, the ship is now in a very dangerous state; she will not last another winter where she is, and therefore must be towed away as soon as possible.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if the Admiralty Board had waited a few more days they might have received a substantially larger offer for the ship from the committee anxious to preserve her as the last capital ship in the Royal Navy? That would have been beneficial to both the national finances and the national heritage. In those circumstances can the noble Lord tell the House what induced the Board of Admiralty not to wait a few more days?

Viscount LONG

My Lords, I understand that this was suggested, but I do not think it was a necessary condition to enable the trust to raise the required funds.


My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to join in the tribute to this wonderful vessel and to those who have served in her? I can understand the sentiment that it should be maintained as part of a tradition, but would it not be far better to send the ship to a ship-breaking yard where the break-up can provide employment for nearly two years, thereby making a very valuable contribution to the industrial position of the country?

Viscount LONG

My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, the "Ark Royal" will sail about the middle of August to the scrapyard for exactly that purpose, which is sad, though of course it will give people employment in dismantling her.