asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty at what date existing aircraft carriers will become obsolete; and what plans he has for their replacement.
Our five operational carriers will all have a first-class capability until at least the early 1970s. No decision has yet been taken about replacements, but we are studying the characteristics which they would need.
Would my hon. Friend bear in mind that it might be better, from the point of view both of defence and of cost, not to replace these vessels by aircraft carriers but to lay down missile submarines? Can my hon. Friend say when the Admiralty is likely to reach a decision on this matter?
I should think that recent events in Kuwait showed how valuable an aircraft carrier is, not only to provide radar cover and control facilities—[Interruption.]—yes, the commando carrier has been reinforced by "Victorious", an aircraft carrier, and these carriers are absolutely invaluable in the present climate and difficulties in the world.
Can the Civil Lord give an assurance that before the Admiralty comes to a decision on this, there will be a debate in this House, as very strong views are held on both sides as to whether or no we should persist in replacing these aircraft carriers?
Some time may elapse before we start on the programme. As I say, no decision has yet been taken about replacements. An aircraft carrier normally lasts twenty years, and if we do a major modernisation on it, it will last ten years after that. So we need not rush into a decision on this important matter.
But the Civil Lord has not answered my question—
The Civil Lord cannot be asked about arrangements for business. He does not arrange business.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Admiralty makes the decision, and all we ask is that it should not be made until after there has been a full debate in this House.
I do not know if the hon. Gentleman can answer that.