John Hay, Civil Lord of the Admiralty in 1963-1964, said on 2 March 1964 that "Our present information and advice is that the aircraft should be able to operate from "Hermes" after she has undergone her refit."
I was asked how many Phantoms we intended to buy and how much the aircraft would cost. I shall not give either the cost or the total numbers. I cannot divulge this information, because it would not be in the public interest and it would be contrary to precedents. I can say a little about the phasing out of the Sea Vixen which the Phantom, if we get it, will replace. We expect the Sea Vixens to be phasing out between the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s. The last carrier to operate Sea Vixens will be "Ark Royal". Phantoms will be operated from "Hermes", "Eagle" and the new carrier when it is built. I say "Hermes", because I made a slip of the tongue when I was interrupted earlier, in my first speech.
The Committee will recollect that I said that we were proposing to embark on a programme of technical evaluation, and one of the things about which we shall have to be completely satisfied is that the Phantom II will be able to operate from these three carriers. Our present information and advice is that the aircraft should be able to operate from "Hermes" after she has undergone her refit.
The hon. Member for Dudley and the hon. Member for Islington, North talked about the engine of the Phantom. The purpose of fitting the Spey engine is to get not a lower, but a better performance. That is why we want the Spey engine, not because we have some special national pride which we wish to satisfy but because we believe and are advised that with the Spey engine the Phantom II will have a better performance than it has now. This is the whole object of the operation and I ask the Committee to accept that.
According to the hon. Gentleman, it is safe to operate the aircraft with a more powerful engine from a 23,000-ton aircraft carrier, and yet Mr. McNamara has said that it cannot be operated safely with its present engine from a 31,000-ton aircraft carrier. The hon. Gentleman must have seen that speech.
I have a great respect and admiration for Mr. McNamara—as I believe every hon. Member must have—but I find it a little galling, whenever I say something at this Box, constantly to have Mr. McNamara's speech to Congress thrown in my face. I have told the Committee that the advice and information we have from those experts upon whom we are entitled to rely is that this aircraft could operate from "Hermes" and the other two carriers that I have mentioned. I must ask the Committee to accept that from me. I cannot be drawn into arguments about what Mr. McNamara has told Congress.