HL Deb 06 December 1983 vol 445 cc987-8
The Earl of Kimberley

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there are any plans to use airships for defence purposes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence is interested in exploiting any potential which airships might have for military application. Studies are being carried out on their capabilities and possible roles. When these are both completed it will be possible to assess whether a requirement exists.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. May I ask him, first, whether he agrees that the Adam Smith Institute policy would suggest that the Nimrod AWACs could be replaced by a lightweight AWAC force? Would he not agree that perhaps the airship could fill that role? Secondly, since research and development is very necessary, would he say that there was any possibility that the Ministry of Defence and/or the Department of Trade and Industry might be able to help towards this, so that the contractors could supply the right sort of craft?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the studies to which I referred are being carried out to validate just the sort of views to which my noble friend has referred, and I hope that we shall be able to reach a view of our own on this matter in the not too distant future. As for the question of further support, that, too, I think, will have to await the outcome of the studies to which I have referred; but it is perhaps worth saying that the Department of Trade and Industry have already provided financial support in respect of a pre-production order of one particular airship, and that any further applications would have to be considered in the context of the amount sought and of the limited funds available.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, referring to what my noble friend the Minister has just said, is this connected with the work that is already being carried out at Cardington by a firm called Airships Industries Limited?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that is, indeed, the particular airship which my department is currently studying.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether, if the Government are going to reinforce the Air Force with airships, he will give us an undertaking that they will not, as the next move, be arming the infantry with crossbows?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the truth of the matter, I must say, is that airships may have a serious role to play for military purposes. I am sure that the noble Lord would not wish to be misled on that point.

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