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Queen's Flight

Volume 978: debated on Tuesday 12 February 1980

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has yet taken a decision on whether to reequip the Queen's Flight with modern aircraft; and if he will make a statement.

I have as yet nothing to add to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend on 21 January.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that was a disappointing reply, particularly as this prestigious Flight is equipped with 15-year-old turboprop planes? Does my hon. Friend agree that one of its roles is to display the latest and best of British aviation to potential foreign buyers?

I do not know whether that was the original role of the Queen's Flight. It is certainly not its present role. The issue is being carefully considered. However, the whole cost will fall on the defence budget, and there are many other competing claims.

Does the Minister agree that, while the Government are presiding over a national economy of sackcloth and ashes, it is the height of absurd extravagance to spend a single penny on that Flight? During the past 12 months, on how many occasions have aircraft from this Flight been used for social purposes, to fly privileged personel to areas where they can shoot defenceless birds out of the air?

I somehow thought, Mr Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman might seek to catch your eye. During the past year the Queen's Flight has not been used for the purposes described by the hon. Gentleman. I shall remind the hon. Gentleman that 35 per cent. of all flights in the Queen's Flight are for the purpose of transporting non-Royal persons, such as Service chiefs and Government Ministers—no matter which Government are in power. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should not take this opportunity as another excuse to parade his prejudices.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Queen's Flight is of the greatest help in the prosecution of Government business, especially in Northern Ireland? How on earth would the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)—who served as a Minister in Northern Ireland—have fitted into the tiny old-fashioned aeroplanes with which the Flight is equipped?

My hon. Friend is right. The Queen's Flight is of great assistance to the Government.

Will the Minister confirm that the Queen's Flight consists not only of Andovers, but of the HS 125 and helicopters? VC 10s are also available for long-range Royal flights. Does he further agree that it would be a misappropriation of defence funds—particularly of the RAF's budget—to spend more on the Queen's Flight, when there are so many other deficiencies, particularly in air defence?

:The hon. Gentleman is attempting to draw me into areas of internal Ministry of Defence debate, based on his previous experience. We must look at the subject of the present study, and the various other aircraft used for VIP flights. We shall consider whether new equipment is needed. At some point, the Andover aircraft will have to be replaced. It is simply a question of whether they are to be replaced by British equipment. However, that must be the case.