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I now raise a matter that is very important in Plymouth and that will be very important in other dockyards and facilities around the country. At the moment, the dockyard is called "Her Majesty's royal dockyard". Will it continue to be called that after privatisation ? It is an important issue in terms of the defence of the nation, my constituents' jobs and the prestige of the city of Plymouth. I have said many times that Plymouth is highly dependent on the Navy and that the Navy is highly dependent on Plymouth. Our record goes back 300 years with the Navy and with the men and women who have serviced its ships during that time. We have a proud history. There have been many changes over the years--we accept that and know the reasons behind them--but the fundamental changes that are taking place now are having a major effect on the economy of our city. I question the quality of planning by the Navy and the Ministry of Defence and I wonder what sort of co-ordination there is between those dealing with strategic planning and those responsible for financial management. Some important issues need to be addressed about the good use of taxpayers' money ; that was mentioned by the Minister when he opened the debate. All too often, we find that millions of pounds are spent on establishments in Plymouth and the south-west that are due to close.

For example, the Royal Navy engineering college at Manadon in my constituency, which is due to close in July 1995, has had maintenance and refurbishment of its buildings totalling £2.8 million in the past two years. How can one justify such expenditure on an establishment that is about to close? It is interesting that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces gave me an answer in Hansard and had to write to me two days later to correct it because he was a few million pounds out. It demonstrates the level of chaos in Ministry of Defence planning.

Even today, I have heard that a contract has been awarded to a builder for the royal naval depot at Coypool in Plymouth. I welcome it because it will bring employment for building workers in my area, but we know that the Royal Marines have been considering moving from Coypool and Seaton barracks because they have been to Chivenor to see whether it is a more appropriate place for them.

Is there a proper relationship between the strategic and the financial planning for those establishments? Millions of pounds are being spent on them and it may be money that is being wasted. I remind the Minister that, in the past two years at Chivenor, £9 million has been spent on office space, yet it has already been announced that the place is to close. I have seen the Minister and expressed my concern about Plymouth and about the need for intervention.

Most of all, the Ministry of Defence needs to co-operate with the local community. It is not enough for the Ministry of Defence to consider only what is in its own best interests. We must look at the broader interests of taxpayers and local communities. If the Ministry were to co-operate with local councils, with the private sector, including chambers of trade and commerce, and with others in the locality, the value added to the land and buildings that it was proposing to leave would be substantially greater than if the matter were left to the Ministry alone.

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That is why I am pleased to note that a working party is getting under way in Plymouth, not to take decisions but so that vital recommendations can be made to the Minister by those who know and understand the area. I repeat that it would be a way of adding value to these establishments for the taxpayer. I hope also that the Minister will look at RAF Chivenor to see whether a similar working party could be set up there.

A number of matters affect individual service men and their families, particularly the very large number who are my constituents, one of which is service accommodation. I have referred in the House many times to the number of empty service quarters. In my constituency, we have 227 empty service quarters. In Plymouth, there are 362 altogether. It means that a total of 14 per cent. of the properties owned and maintained by the Ministry of Defence are lying empty in Plymouth. Some are being vandalised ; others are having to have money spent on them for security reasons.

The Minister must address that issue. In the whole country, 10,112 out of 72,000 service quarters are empty. As someone has said, that is the equivalent of a small town lying empty, but it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.

I also want to mention homelessness and what happens when defence personnel, particularly those in the Royal Navy, come to the end of their time in the service. There are three reasons why homelessness affects naval personnel. The first is marriage break-up. There are many tensions in the job, just as there are in civilian life, and service marriages do break down. There are the service families who come to the end of the tour of duty. Others, I am sad to say, have been made redundant under "Options for Change".

Last year in Plymouth, 75 families of former Navy and other military personnel were made homeless. As soon as they leave the service, their right to subsidised rent goes ; although some were paying £30 or £40 a week for their homes while they were in the service, their rent goes up immediately to £80 or £90 a week once they leave. That puts pressure on housing benefit and the social security budget, or, in some cases that I have come across, a service man eats into his gratuity to pay the rent on property that he formerly rented at a reduced rate.

Service families may then become what is known as irregular occupants of the property, which is the next stage to being classified homeless. At that point, Plymouth city council has to pick up the tab, the responsibility for these families, and find them homes. In a debate on housing in the Chamber not two weeks ago, we heard that other deserving families were pushed even further down the list.

How will service families fare in the future? I am sure that the Minister has read the consultation document from his hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment entitled, "Access to local authority and housing association tenancies". Section 8.4 of the report says :

"The Government proposes that a local authority should not be under a duty to provide emergency assistance to a person who has any form of accommodation available, however temporary the tenure. In order to align with the new and more limited duty towards persons eligible for assistance, it will be necessary to provide that a person occupying any accommodation, even of a temporary character, will not qualify." What will happen to those Royal Navy personnel who leave the service or whose marriage breaks down? They will no longer be classified as homeless by the local authority. Who will help them? Will we think it acceptable

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that people who have given their working lives to the armed forces and often risked their lives could be on the streets with no home whatever, and not even the local authority has responsibility for them?

The Minister will know that there are in my constituency a number of service personnel living in houses that they consider to be substandard. Recently, I was shown a house that needed major maintenance and in which the carpets were damp. The families concerned have been told that no funds are available for improvements. Those are the families of people serving in the Royal Navy. By contrast, at the Manadon royal naval college, which is just two miles away, £10,000 has just been spent on carpets in the wardroom, despite the fact that the college is due to be closed in July 1995.

It is natural that my constituents should ask why it is not possible to have valuable work done when the health of families is at stake. The Minister, in his letter to me, said that the wardroom work to which I have referred was done for health and safety reasons. Many of my constituents would say that it is for health and safety reasons that work needs to be done on their homes. I hope that the Minister will address that question.

I should like now to refer to a very important issue that affects naval personnel. Two or three weeks ago, I attended a meeting in Plymouth that had been arranged by an action group concerned about the working of the Child Support Agency. It was a packed meeting, and I was surprised and concerned at the very large number of Navy personnel present. Their job gives rise to strains in marriage. Long periods away from home lead to separation. Service personnel are just as prone to marriage breakdown as are civilians.

At the meeting, people expressed concerns relating specifically to service in the Royal Navy. I was told that their welfare departments usually give them very good advice, and in respect of most matters people were full of praise for those departments. However, in the case of the Child Support Agency the people who should be giving advice are not up to speed on the legislation and are not in a good position to advise.

I hope that the Minister will act urgently to ensure that those welfare departments, which usually provide very high-quality service, will be able to do so in respect of matters relating to the Child Support Agency. I assure the hon. Gentleman that these problems are causing very great stress among serving Royal Navy officers and ratings.

The Child Support Agency sends out letters demanding a response within 14 days. Anyone who does not respond promptly enough has a settlement imposed on him. Several people at the meeting that I attended asked how a person on a submarine or serving elsewhere could respond within 14 days. Very often, people encounter great difficulty.

The Minister is shaking his head. Let me make it clear that what I am putting to him has been brought to me, separately and independently, by serving Royal Navy personnel. They tell me that they do not receive notification in time to respond within the period specified by the agency. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look into that very important matter and will make representations to the Secretary of State for Social Security.

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Mr. Hanley : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have taken that matter up with the Department of Social Security. If there are operational reasons for any response delay, they will be taken flexibly into account.

Mr. Jamieson : I am very grateful to the Minister for that assurance. He may now cross out one of the questions on his list. Many service men have told me that they can encounter problems throughout their employment if they are found to be in financial difficulty. Some people have found the amounts they have to pay each week being increased massively. I shall not go into all the arguments about the matter, as they were discussed last week, but I should like to know whether people will be prejudiced in their work if they are found to be experiencing financial difficulty.

I want to discuss the education of the children of men and women serving in the Royal Navy. Within the last few weeks, I have come across some very disturbing information. The Ministry has a boarding school allowance scheme, which enables children whose parents live or work away from home to have continuity of education. Such provision is quite proper, and I support it.

Most of the boarding schools are, by definition, private and independent. We all know that such schools have no obligation to follow the national curriculum or to undertake key stage testing, about whose necessity, in the context of raising standards, we have heard so much in the Chamber. Nor are such schools inspected regularly by Her Majesty's inspectorate, and they do not come within the remit of the Office for Standards in Education unless there is some direct cause for concern or a school is trying to have itself registered.

I make those points because many Royal Navy personnel send their children to such schools. and the expenditure represents a very considerable part of the Ministry of Defence budget. The Minister will know that last year the boarding school allowance scheme cost more than £116 million and that the average cost per place was about £7,700. The scheme covers thousands of children. Despite that, the number of inspectorate reports is very small. The schools are funded at four times the level for equivalent state secondary schools, the average cost of the latter being £2,000.

All schools have a very special duty to care for their children--the in loco parentis concept. Boarding schools have a special duty, as their in loco parentis role continues 24 hours a day. Unlike the children in day schools, those at boarding schools do not have direct contact with parents or guardians at the beginning and end of each day. Thus, it is very important that they be able to make private telephone contact with people outside. Sometimes children need reassurance, and sometimes they need to be able to tell people outside things that they cannot put to those running the school. I put those points to the Secretary of State in a letter of 21 January. I appreciate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been very busy in the past few weeks and has not been able to find time to reply. My letter contained three very important questions--questions that I am putting now on behalf of Royal Navy personnel. I asked the Secretary of State :

"Are the HMI and OFSTED reports on private schools made available to all the parents who have children at those schools on the MOD boarding scheme?"

I can assist with the answer. Although the Secretary of State for Defence has not yet found time to reply to my

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letter of 21 January, the Secretary of State for Education has, within the past hour, replied to a similar letter that I sent to him. The right hon. Gentleman's reply says :

"Any school which is the subject of a published report is supplied with copies, which it can distribute as it sees fit."

It goes on :

"The onus is on the school to distribute the report to interested parties or to advise them where the report can be obtained." In other words, those reports are not generally available to the service families who are using the schools. They are available only if the school chooses to let the parents know about the report and to send them a copy.

The second question that I asked in my letter was what programme the Department had to check that independent and private schools involved in the scheme were offering good standards of education and value for money. The third question was whether the Minister would urge the Office for Standards in Education to carry out extensive inspections of all private schools that receive subsidies from the Ministry of Defence under the service boarding scheme.

I am concerned about the matter because I have taken the trouble to consider some of the reports on the schools that are on that scheme. Those schools are also on the list of admissible schools, which is sent out by the service children's education authority to Navy personnel who inquire about boarding education. Two schools that I shall mention are on that list. It seems to suggest that those who send it out have some confidence in the schools that appear on it. I mentioned that in the letter to the Minister and I have given him at least a month's notice of what I shall say.

I have the report of the Finborough school in Stowmarket, Suffolk, which has a total of 216 pupils. Two thirds of the children boarding at the school have parents in the armed services. That school receives money from the Ministry of Defence budget and from Navy personnel who send their children there, yet, in the report by Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools, serious concerns are raised about the school's standard of education. For example, the report said :

"few lessons were good throughout."

It said of the quality of teaching :

"it was satisfactory in less than half of the lessons seen in the junior school."

It said that there had been a

"relatively large number of expulsions and suspensions Pupils' standards are frequently limited by insufficiently high expectations and a constant lack of rigour and challenge in the tasks set." That report was conducted in May 1993. What action has the Minister taken on behalf of those children who are being sent there under the boarding scheme? The school receives between £500,000 and £750,000 a year of taxpayers' money, yet, as far as I can see, no action has been taken by his Department or, if it has, that action has not been brought to my attention. Perhaps the Minister has not found time. I shall willingly give way to him if he will tell us something about the school and the action that he has taken.

Mr. Hanley : I merely remind the hon. Gentleman that he spoke to the private secretary of the Under-Secretary of State, my noble Friend Lord Cecil of Essenden, who dealt with that matter. The draft letter and the gist of its contents were explained to the hon. Gentleman. It was explained that the draft letter was in its final stages and that the

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Ministry of Defence needed concurrence from the Department of Education. The hon. Gentleman knows that such things take a few days to complete. It is not quite fair of him to say that nothing has been brought to his attention about those matters when he knows from the gist of the letter that the matter has been dealt with fully and that in a short time he will receive the official response. By the way, I am grateful to him for raising the issue.

Mr. Jamieson : I am glad that my telephone call to the Minister today seems to have initiated some activity in his Department and that we are now receiving answers on behalf of the children in those schools. I did not seek the answers for myself, but for the children in those schools and their parents.

Perhaps, while the Minister has the matter in his mind, I shall turn his attention to another school. [ Hon. Members :-- "Oh, no."] Conservative Members are saying "Oh no." May I remind them that in their constituencies, there are probably children who attend some of those schools? They may not be concerned about the standard of education that those children receive, but I am. The parents have a right to know what the reports contain. The reports are treated almost as if they are secret documents and it is only proper that the contents are brought into the public domain, since public money is being spent on those schools through the Royal Navy and the boarding school allowance scheme.

The Rodney school in Kirklington, Nottinghamshire, was inspected in June 1991. As far as I know, it is in operation and 27 per cent. of its pupils are on the boarding schools allowance scheme. An article in The Times a year later said :

"A second independent school in little more than a week was yesterday given six months to improve standards or face closure." What has happened about that school since 1992? Children of service men and women have been attending that school week on week and the taxpayer is paying for it to be maintained.

I found another school that is not on the list--

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is talking about education, which may have some tangential, but only a tangential, relationship to the debate on the Royal Navy. Is it in order to speak for 35 minutes and for the past 10 minutes to talk about education in a debate which is devoted to the Royal Navy?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : There is no time limit on speeches, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware. It is up to individual Members. So far, the hon. Member has been quite in order.

Mr. Jamieson : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that reassurance. I must say to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) that I am talking about the education of children of parents who are serving in the Royal Navy and in the armed services. If I were out of order, I am certain that Mr. Deputy Speaker would have ruled me so. Another school, which is not on the list of admissible schools, but has a large number of children who are on the boarding school scheme is Hillsea college in Basingstoke, Hampshire. It received a critical report in June 1991 by Her Majesty's inspectors. I am glad to say that it closed in July 1992, but not because of any action taken by the Ministry of Defence or by the Department for Education. It

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eventually closed because there were too few pupils going to the school. [Interruption.] Some Conservative Members are jeering.

Mr. Hanley : I am not.

Mr. Jamieson : The Minister is not jeering. He is listening to the argument seriously, for which I am grateful. Some hon. Members behind him have jeered at some of my comments, but my concern for those families is substantial.

I shall refer to another school that I am glad to say closed some years ago. A report on the Crookham Court school by Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools in 1987 highlighted safety hazards and unsatisfactory teaching standards. The report said that the school was in a "dirty and depressing state". One of the reasons why the school was closed was given in an article in The Times in July 1990, which said :

"the owner of a private boys' school was yesterday convicted of sexually abusing one of his pupils."

One of the staff was also convicted. The report on the school said that private school catered mainly for service families. I have tried to make some points on behalf of the families and the children of those people serving in the Navy.

I have tried to raise some important matters on behalf of those families, because some of the children are in poor schools, some of which are in a dangerous condition. I have read the reports, and most of the children are in good schools, with high standards and good exam results, which look after their pupils with great care. My concern, which the Minister should take on board, is that a substantial minority of the schools are not meeting even the minimum standards that one would expect for a reasonable education. I have raised those matters on behalf of service personnel and their families because they are vital to the morale that we need in the services for the men and women who serve their country every day of their lives.

7.20 pm

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North) : I hope that the House will excuse me if I do not follow the comments of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), although I would wish to associate myself with what was said by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) about Rosyth dockyard. My constituents in Portsmouth would well understand the worries that she mentioned. We who represent dockyard constituencies fight hard to maintain their position, but in a positive manner, seeking to present the qualities of our own areas and never seeking to damage the prospects or opportunities of other dockyards or constituencies.

In the past I have intervened in debates of this nature to call for more ships and more men. That is probably expected of those of us who represent naval constituencies. Tonight I am concerned about the efficient use of the resources that the Royal Navy has at its disposal in a world in which circumstances change so rapidly that planning becomes especially difficult.

In the 19th century one could respond to an international situation by sending a gunboat. Nowadays it is essential that, if a Royal Navy presence is to be deployed to meet an international situation, we are certain that the vessel concerned is capable of meeting the needs of that situation, and is equipped so as to enable it to make a

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positive contribution then and there. It is also vital that the operations of the vessel should be properly supported and protected. Much has been said today, and even more on previous occasions, about the situation in Bosnia. At some point the naval presence that we have maintained there for some time may be called upon to play a more active role. The great difficulty is that it is not clear exactly what that role would be. Would it be to assist in landing further troops? Or might it be to help with the emergency withdrawal of troops and civilian personnel from the area?

For example, a few months ago it was not clear whether the port of Split would fall to hostile forces, in which case the whole course of the operation would have been changed. It is not possible simply to say that so long as we have some ships to send we shall be solving the problem.

I am old enough to remember the appalling casualties suffered by the Royal Navy after the end of the second world war in that same Adriatic sea, when our ships ran on to mines laid, we believe, by the Albanians. That was an appalling situation that caused great loss of life, and it reminds us of the fact that the Navy has to face unknown dangers wherever it operates.

That is why I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give thought not simply to how many frigates we should have--although I suppose that we can never have too many--and not only to how many minehunters we should have, but to whether we shall have a sufficiently balanced fleet today, in a month's time, in a year's time, or in five or 10 years' time. Over all those different time spans, we must have a sufficiently balanced fleet to operate effectively in the uncertain conditions that may arise.

The idea of another Falklands operation has already been mentioned. I do not wish to say much about that, but I remind the House that the Falklands emergency arose suddenly and we had to put together a fleet quickly. Fortunately, we still had the kind of vessels that could maintain an operation in the south Atlantic in sufficient force to achieve our purpose.

The question that I now ask is whether in a short time we could mount an operation against a defended shore, to put troops on the beaches and inland to support forces already present in a theatre of operations, be it Bosnia or elsewhere. I am reminded of the fact that when close inshore operations were required in the Gulf conflict the greatest threat came from minefields. The Royal Navy's presence there included mine hunters of the latest type, capable of clearing a way not only for Royal Navy vessels to get in close, but for vessels of the United States navy, whose helicopter- mounted anti-mines measures were found to be less effective than those of the Royal Navy. We must ensure that we can clear the way before vessels arrive and that when they get to their station they are of the correct kind.

Our assault ships Intrepid and Fearless have already been mentioned. We are aware of the large sums spent over recent years to maintain those vessels in service, but I ask my hon. Friend whether he can give me an assurance that both vessels are available for service and could be used if necessary to mount an operation against a defended shore. Rumours suggest that is not entirely the case, and I should like a firm assurance.

Can my hon. Friend also confirm that, when he mentions a landing platform dock, he is talking about two replacement vessels, not one supplementing the existing assault ships, or one stretched to a slightly greater

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capacity? Two landing platform docks are essential if we are to maintain our capacity to operate away from home waters and to maintain a force ashore in hostile territory over time.

We all welcome the decision to proceed with the landing platform helicopter. That type of vessel would be essential if we needed to move large numbers of troops in or out of a theatre of operations in a short time. However, can we be assured that the Royal Navy will have sufficient helicopters of the right kind to ensure that the vessel will be used efficiently and effectively when it is available and that it can be operated in the meantime from the platforms that we may have to improvise?

There is an urgent need to supplement the Merlin programme of the EH101, the purely naval programme, with procurement of a utility version that would provide the kind of heavy-lift high-flexibility capacity that could be necessary in Bosnia by the beginning of next week. I doubt whether we really have the capacity today to operate in that way efficiently and effectively.

I seek an assurance that we are not simply saying that we have a certain number of vessels, and that means that we have a certain operational capacity but a fleet whose design is based on operational requirements and a clear strategic plan prepared for the future. We must not have simply a residue of ships after the Treasury's budgetary restraints have been met. We need a fleet that can act as the operational arm of the interests of this country and protect those interests overseas effectively, efficiently and flexibly. That is perhaps much more important than simply the number of any one sort of vessel.

Each year I look in vain in the reports on the defence estimates for a clear statement on exactly what sort of operations we anticipate that this country would acept on behalf of the United Nations, NATO or our own national interests, and in which parts of the world we would be prepared to commit our forces. Until we clarify the circumstances in which the Royal Navy might be called on to operate in support of the other two arms of the armed forces, we cannot judge whether the Royal Navy will be able to carry out its task efficiently in the short term, the medium term and the long term.

I ask my hon. Friend to give specific assurances on HMS Fearless, HMS Intrepid and the two landing platform docks. I would also like a wider assurance that the Ministry of Defence has a clear picture of the operations that we could properly undertake and those which are not within the capacity of the United Kingdom.

7.31 pm

Mr. Jamie Cann (Ipswich) : What I shall say is complimentary and complementary to what the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) said : first, it is complimentary in that I agree with what he said : secondly, it is complementary because what I shall say goes along with what he said and perhaps extends it in one specific area. I have no constituency interest. There was the tiniest reserve outfit in Ipswich harbour, which was supposed to look after the harbour during the war, but that has long since gone. I shall not criticise the Government's policy with regard to the Navy. I shall merely talk about

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what I see as the role of the aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy at present and in the past, and how it will fit in with our needs in the future.

The Royal Navy was the first navy to have an aircraft carrier. It stripped the guns from four battle cruisers and replaced them with strutted landing platforms for the take-off of seaplanes. During the second world war, our Navy was one of the first to have metal decks on carriers. It was certainly the first navy to have angled take-off decks and mirror-aided landings on carriers. We have a proud history in these matters.

Everyone recognises that between the wars we lost our leadership over the navies of other nations. Certainly, in the second world war, the Americans and the Japanese far outstripped us in the use of these vessels. They were the first to recognise that the carrier was the capital ship. That was true, certainly from 1942-43 and perhaps all the way through to the early 1970s.

In exercises using British hunter-killer nuclear submarines--the modern capital ships--it has been proved that no carrier group can protect the carrier and its centre from such vessels. Therefore, we must recognise that the capital ship is the hunter-killer and if the carrier has a role at all it is different from its previous one. We recognised that before other countries. We scrapped HMS Illustrious, HMS Victorious and so on--one of the smallest, Hermes was the last--and replaced them with a different vessel at the same time as the USSR was building carriers.

The USS Nimitz was built in 1975, and the French are still building a large carrier, the Charles de Gaulle--I suppose it would have to be called that-- which is not yet commissioned. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we produced a different vessel altogether. Basically, the new Invincible class carriers were designed for anti-submarine warfare. One of them is either on extended refit or in mothballs, according to whom one talks to.

Then a strange thing happened, rather like Ipswich. Ipswich was behind the times when everyone else was knocking down terrace houses and putting up blocks of flats. This country got it the wrong way around in terms of carriers. When we were scrapping the large carriers with fixed-wing aircraft and producing carriers for anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic against the threat from the USSR, the cold war disappeared over the horizon. We had wars in the Falklands and in the Gulf, and now we have things to do in Bosnia. Goodness knows where we will go after that.

Clearly, the modern role of the carrier will not be that of the capital ship. It will be the offshore airfield for a large number of planes covering the landing, reinforcement and removal of ground forces in different areas of the world. When we look at our carriers and their role, we compare badly with, for example, the French. The Invincible class carriers are modern--they were commissioned in 1980. Each one is 20,000 tonnes with a complement of 700--excluding any flying staff--nine fixed- wing aircraft and nine Sea King helicopters. The aircraft are there only to protect the carrier so that the helicopters can do their job.

In comparison, the French carrier, the Clemenceau, is 27,000 tonnes--that is not much bigger--and has a complement of 10,000, but that is the French. The number of aircraft flying from the carrier is 37 compared to nine. That is four times the punch that we are putting in. We have two carriers on the way which will deliver a total of 18 Sea Harriers. The French have the Foch and the Clemenceau

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which will deliver 74. For commensurate effort, the French punch is, unfortunately, much greater than ours, although at the time it seemed that we had more foresight about the use of such vessels. The way in which we are equipping our present carriers is outdated. I know that it is not easy in these times because money is not easy to come by ; I am certainly not giving any pledges. We may be able to reduce the number of helicopters on our carriers and increase the number of fixed-wing aircraft--I do not know, because I have never been on one of our carriers, but I hope to do so before I leave this place.

To follow what the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North said, we must ensure that we can put at least a brigade force ashore almost anywhere in the world and cover it by the use of carriers and a carrier task group in the way that I do not believe our present force would be able to do.

As always, the Royal Navy has a multiplicity of roles. It is now our nuclear deterrent. It provides capital ships that can roam the world and do as much damage as any other navy, and probably better. We will always need frigates, minesweepers, and so on. However, we must re-evaluate the ability of the Royal Navy to be able to put ashore, cover and support British troops wherever they may be in the world.

7.39 pm

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green) : It is a great pleasure for me to contribute to the debate, not least because I am beginning my association with the Royal Navy through the armed forces parliamentary scheme at the same time as the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), who spoke so ably earlier in aid of Rosyth. Through that association, I hope that in future I shall be able to speak with even more experience, especially on the lives and concerns of royal naval officers and ratings.

The debate has concentrated on the wider issues, including where the Royal Navy is heading in volatile times and reduced circumstances. I heartily agree with much that has been said already by my hon. Friends and by Opposition Members. I do not want to repeat or labour the points that they made, but I should like to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) and for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) and with the thoughtful comments on the role of aircraft carriers made by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann). I heartily concur with his comments--a study on aircraft carriers by the Navy would be worth while. Last year's defence White Paper, which as the House will probably know I felt unable to support in the Lobby, identified three key roles for our armed services. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster paid some attention to those roles, which were : first, to protect the United Kingdom and our dependent territories ; secondly, to insure against any major external threats to the United Kingdom or its allies ; and, thirdly, to contribute to promoting the United Kingdom's wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and stability, especially where it affects our national interest or the security of the United Kingdom and its allies.

On the third category, the main threat to Europe and to our allies results from the instability and uncertainties that have arisen in the aftermath of the cold war, rather than from any direct threat to the safety of sovereign territories

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that belong to the United Kingdom or our allies. Furthermore, it is obvious that a wide variety of commitments has arisen from that third category, Bosnia being the most recent.

It appears that the number of those commitments will continue to rise rather than fall. It is therefore obvious, although not inevitable, that the use of force--whether naval, military or through air power--or the threat of it will, when combined with diplomatic pressures, continue to have an effective part to play in the collective or individual security of the United Kingdom and its allies.

Several of the tasks involved in those three defence roles, such as the rapid reinforcement of a dependency--whether it be the Falklands or another state, for example in the Caribbean--may have to be undertaken alone by the United Kingdom. The effective use of the Royal Navy would be crucial in the fulfilment of that role. Ministers have confirmed that the United Kingdom's ability to project military power across the world, using our sea power, remains a crucial factor in our defence and security policy.

The difficulty is the credibility gap that exists between my hon. Friends' acknowledgement of the commitments that face the Royal Navy and the other two services, and their apparent acceptance of the continued salami-slicing of the defence budget and of enforced reductions in the capability of the Royal Navy to perform those tasks in line with our commitments. The 1992 public expenditure survey round took a further £1 billion from the defence budget and the 1993 PES round appears to want to achieve savings during the next two to three years of £1.4 billion, under the pretext of the "Front Line First" defence costs study.

I accept that the decline in the operational size and activity of the former Soviet Union submarine fleet means that the Royal Navy no longer needs to maintain the same levels of anti-submarine operations in the north Atlantic. It has been alleged that is why the Government have decided to scrap the Upholder class of submarine. I join my hon. Friends and Opposition Members in asking my hon. Friends the Ministers to reconsider that decision. I also believe that the Upholder class of submarine could be an extremely useful and cheap way to project power, particularly in shallow waters--perhaps after minor adaptations--and we should consider that matter carefully. I point out to Ministers that the Baltic is another region of possible instability in the not too distant future. The Upholder class of submarine would be ideal for use in the Baltic sea. When my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement replies to the debate, will he mention the current use of the Upholder class and say whether he has any plans to reconsider its future?

My concern about our commitments is, if anything, made worse by the idea that a further defence costs study is under way, under the pretext that I mentioned earlier. There have been many remarks about having more admirals than ships. Having studied the figures, I confirm not only that is totally untrue but that it is folly to suggest that scrapping a few of those admirals, as if they were ships, would save much money.

I accept that it is reasonable for the Government to say that privatising some functions that do not need to be carried out by service men or civil servants might save some money and therefore release service men to help with overstretch in other sectors. The greater use of private sector finance in procurement, particularly where it

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