HMS "Invincible"

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 27 Gorffennaf 1982.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Victor Goodhew Mr Victor Goodhew , St Albans 12:00, 27 Gorffennaf 1982

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is now in a position to make a statement about the future of HMS "Invincible".

Photo of Mr Patrick Duffy Mr Patrick Duffy , Sheffield, Attercliffe

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the size of the carrier force and the future of HMS "Invincible".

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

I have informed the Australian Government that we wish to retain HMS "Invincible", and the Australian Defence Minister is now communicating our wishes to his colleagues in the Australian Cabinet.

Photo of Mr Victor Goodhew Mr Victor Goodhew , St Albans

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even those who were not critical of his recent statement on defence will welcome this indication of the Government's decision to maintain three aircraft carriers, which we hope will continue for the indefinite future? When the transaction is completed, will he encourage the Australian Government to order a British aircraft carrier with Harrier aircraft?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

I shall obviously encourage the Australian Government to order more defence equipment from Britain. I had very useful talks with the Australian Defence Minister here a week or two ago. I hope to hear from him again shortly.

Photo of Mr Patrick Duffy Mr Patrick Duffy , Sheffield, Attercliffe

Will the Secretary of State confirm that three aircraft carriers will be in service until HMS "Ark Royal" becomes available in 1985? Has he yet estimated the effect of the announcement to retain HMS "Invincible" on the planned capacity at Portsmouth dockyard and on the number of redundancies among not only dockyard but naval personnel?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

Recently, I announced that we would publish a White Paper in the autumn. In it we shall, of course, give the results of our consideration of naval numbers and of the future size of the dockyards following our reassessment of the ships that need to be repaired as a result of the Falklands campaign. At present, our plan is that there should always be two aircraft carriers operational. That means that we would need a third aircraft carrier in reserve, so that when one of those carriers is due for its first refit in the 1990s—HMS "Invincible" would be due for a refit in the 1990s—there would be two carriers operational in the Fleet.

Photo of Mr Mike Thomas Mr Mike Thomas , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a thought to those of my constituents who built HMS "Invincible"? Will he consider a further through-deck cruiser order for the Tyne shipyards? In addition, will he step in and stop this humiliating public Dutch auction over the "Atlantic Conveyor" and give the men the work that they deserve? Is he aware that unemployment in that area exceeds 30 per cent.?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

I am very well aware that Swan Hunter is short of work at the moment. If possible, we would be prepared to make some funds available from the Ministry of Defence budget to change the design of any replacement for the "Atlantic Conveyor", so that it could be used as a useful reserve asset for military purposes. These matters are under discussion. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will wish to say more about this issue in due course.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Gorllewin Caerdydd

Order. I allowed the Secretary of State to answer, but it was a very different question from that on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the decision to retain HMS "Invincible". However, will there be three aircraft carriers in the active Fleet, or is one of them to be placed in reserve? Is the cost of retaining HMS "Invincible" to come out of existing planned defence expenditure, or has the Treasury shown a willingness to chip in?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

As my hon. Friend knows, the Treasury is always helpful in such matters, but it is a little premature to decide how to finance the retention of HMS "Invincible". We shall have to give further attention to that in the autumn. We intend to have two, not three, aircraft carriers operational in the Fleet. The third aircraft carrier will have a standby capacity to ensure that we always have two carriers available in the Fleet when one of them is undergoing refit and to guard against the possibility of an accident.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

The Secretary of State has rightly been careful to say that he has told the Australian Government that we want to retain HMS "Invincible", but he has been equally careful not to tell us the Australian Government's reply. Will he here and now undertake to give us a replacement if the Australians decide to keep HMS "Invincible"?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

The right hon. Gentleman would agree that Mr. Malcolm Fraser's offer during the Falklands crisis to allow us to keep HMS "Invincible", if we so wished, was extremely generous and helpful. I would rather leave the matter there for the moment. The Australian Cabinet knows of our wish to retain HMS "Invincible" and I do not foresee any problems in that regard. However, I am awaiting a communication on this subject from Mr. Sinclair.

Photo of Hon. John Silkin Hon. John Silkin , Lewisham, Deptford

Obviously I do not want to prolong the issue, but did the Secretary of State see the statement in the Australian Free Press—I think, on the day that Mr. Sinclair came to London—in which Mr. Sinclair said that he wanted to retain HMS "Invincible"?

Photo of Mr John Nott Mr John Nott , St Ives

I have not seen the Australian Free Press. If that is what that newspaper said on the day that Mr. Sinclair came here, it predates our discussions on the subject.