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Construction Programme

Volume 478: debated on Wednesday 25 October 1950

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asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he will make a comprehensive statement on the progress and programme of naval construction, conversions, &c.

I apologise for the length of this answer.

Of the new vessels to be built shown in the Navy Estimates 1950–51, H.M.S. "Ark Royal" and three destroyers of the "Daring" Class have been launched. Six new aircraft carriers will join the Fleet between now and 1954. The number of warships under construction has been increased by two anti-submarine frigates of new design; and 41 new design minesweepers, including those approved under the recent additional defence measures, have been or shortly will be ordered, in addition to some small craft.

The conversion of fleet destroyers into anti-submarine frigates is already well under way, and six of these vessels will be in dockyard hands by the end of 1950. More are planned to follow during 1951. A programme of converting war-time submarines to higher speeds has also begun. The aircraft carrier "Victorious" is in hand for modernisation to enable her to operate future types of aircraft.

The number of refits for ships in the Reserve Fleet that will have been undertaken during the three years ending in March, 1951, is 450, including 88 which were part of the recent additional defence programme. Virtually all the ships of the operational reserve have now been refitted at least once since the end of the war. A start is being made on the building of stocks of degaussing and other equipment for the protection of the Merchant Fleet in war.

The hon. Gentleman referred to two further anti-submarine vessels of a new type. Could he say what the programme of these vessels is to be?

Not in answer to a supplementary question. Questions of public security are involved.

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that this programme discloses a considerable weakness in numbers of escort vessels which are refitted and available for service?

No, Sir; I think nothing of the sort. It shows that we have an excellent number of vessels in reserve that would be available to do the job.

Has the construction of the three aircraft carriers, which was suspended in 1946, been resumed?

At the moment we are pushing ahead with the completion of other carriers, which are already further advanced.

Will the Admiralty consider re-issuing next year the Return of Fleets, without which it is almost impossible to know what the situation is?

Will the Minister say whether the undertaking he gave in answer to my Question applies only to the two new anti-submarine frigates or to others as well?

It applies to all vessels that are now being converted, including the fleet destroyers.

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this re-fitting includes the complete rehabilitation of all radar equipment and gun directional equipment on those vessels?

Will the Parliamentary Secretary confirm that there is no major work being done on battleships?