DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – IRAQ TASK FORCE – 27 January 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) made clear, the Government can count on possibly stronger support from the Conservative Opposition than from many of the Secretary of State's own colleagues if the task force goes into action. If it does, is it not the case that it must be adequately defended? Is he content that, out of our three aircraft carriers, only one is available? Is he content that that one has been converted to the role of a commando and helicopter carrier largely because of the paying-off of Fearless before Albion became available? Is he also content that the most experienced pilots of Sea Harriers will not be deployed? Is he not worried that some will feel that that may have less to do with the availability of alternative land-based aircraft and more to do with the fact that if the Sea Harriers and their pilots distinguish themselves in any conflict, it will show how unwise it will be to phase out the Sea Harriers?