DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – AIRCRAFT CARRIERS – 9 October 2007
Dr Julian Lewis: May I say to the Minister that we warmly welcome the announcement of the carriers? However, I remind him that the carriers were originally posited in the Strategic Defence Review in 1998. The deal done with the Navy was that the total of frigates and destroyers would go down from 35 to 32. Later, as he knows, the number went down to 25, and it is now being suggested that it might go down further to 19 or 20. Will he confirm that the Navy is not being required to pay yet another price in terms of frigates and destroyers for the long-awaited carrier order?
[The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): In the years that the party that the hon. Gentleman supports was in power there were massive cuts of 36,000 Army personnel and a huge reduction in defence spending. If he is saying that the shipbuilding programme for the new carriers is not big enough, and that is to be taken seriously, he needs to tell us what his own party's programme is and what his party's spending would be. How much more would he spend on the Navy and the Army? I look forward to hearing him give those commitments. He sits on the Front Bench, not the Back Benches, and he cannot go around making such comments without saying what the alternative would be.]
Dr Lewis: I shall tell the Minister very clearly what our policy is. Either we will fund new commitments that we enter into, such as going into wars, or we will not enter into those commitments. It is his Government who in 1998 set out the combination of 32 frigates and destroyers and two aircraft carriers. They then reduced that to 25 frigates and destroyers and two aircraft carriers. All I am asking is whether the Minister plans to reduce the figure further to 19 or 20 frigates and destroyers and two aircraft carriers. It is a simple yes or no question.
[Mr Ainsworth: We have set a course for the biggest shipbuilding programme in history, providing the Navy with world capability for the future, and I note that the hon. Gentleman did not specify whether his party would spend more or less money.]