New Forest East

DEFENCE – NAVAL AIR COVER – 25 October 2004

Dr Julian Lewis: Who will defend the fleet from aerial attack during the very long gap between the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier and the advent of the new carriers and the joint strike fighter?

[The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr Adam Ingram): I thought that the hon. Gentleman had moved on to new territory, but he is still talking about the Sea Harrier. We have explained repeatedly, but I shall try again to inform the hon. Gentleman. Subjecting the Sea Harrier to a significant upgrade would have come at a cost. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is making a new spending commitment on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench team, although I do not know what their view is: they have said that they will seek to retain the regiments, but I do not know whether they will reinstate the Sea Harrier. Another aspect of the problem was that there was no certainty that the technical upgrade was possible, or that it could be delivered within the time frame. We have explained that the protection of the fleet will be maintained by the weapons systems on board the new ships.]