Royal Navy

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th January 2001.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York 12:00 am, 15th January 2001

If he will make a statement on the seagoing capacity of the Royal Navy. [143719]

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The strategic defence review envisaged an emerging role for maritime forces in a wide range of operations in littoral areas in addition to more traditional naval tasks. It reflected changes in the potential maritime threat, our forces' missions and the likely geographic location of future operations. The Royal Navy has the seagoing capacity to fulfil the role envisaged under the strategic defence review and, as demonstrated by recent deployments to Sierra Leone, has the capacity to react to changing situations. With the introduction of type 45 destroyers, the planned replacement aircraft carriers and the Astute class submarines, the Royal Navy will continue to be very well placed to meet its missions effectively.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I declare an interest as I, too, am part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme and served for six days with HMS Cumberland in the Gulf. Which fleet submarines are currently at sea and operational? I understand that, as of last October, no submarines were able to go to the Gulf to assist HMS Cumberland. My information is that there are plans to scrap HMS Sovereign before her time for withdrawal is due; all 12 of the hunter-killer classes are currently being investigated after coolant leaks; HMS Spartan is in refit; HMS Superb, Sceptre and Splendid are undergoing safety inspections; and all seven of the modern Trafalgar class ships are out of action. Does that not leave our other naval vessels completely exposed—with no submarine defences?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The international security situation does not bear out the particular fears expressed by the hon. Lady; of course, if there were to be a change, we would take emergency action. I confirm that seven of the SSNs are affected by a problem to the pipework that forms part of the reactor cooling system. A repair programme—

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman is jumping about in his usual excitable way. Nearly all those vessels were purchased and built during the period when the Conservatives were in government. I do not know why he thinks that this is a party political point.

A repair programme is in place. Four other SSNs are undergoing refit, maintenance or repair; HMS Triumph has been inspected, is free of the flaw and remains available for programming. I am also pleased to report that, working in close collaboration with industry, the repair programme is advancing well; it is very much a tribute to the skills both of members of the Royal Navy and of the commercial contractors involved.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

I, too, had the invaluable and rewarding experience of spending five to six days on HMS Cumberland as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, along with the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). I pay tribute to the captain, officers and crew of HMS Cumberland and to the rest of our Royal Navy. Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government's commitment to warship building and to maintaining a repair and refit capacity at Rosyth dockyard and other UK facilities?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As I pointed out earlier, we have already launched a considerable programme of new warship construction. Indeed, it is one of the biggest programmes ever undertaken by this country and will help to keep the Royal Navy at the forefront of the world's navies—especially in its blue water capability. My hon. Friend will be aware that a study is being undertaken of warship maintenance. It is considering the capability both in our own dockyards and in those of several of the private contractors. Considerable discussion is taking place with the companies concerned and, obviously, with the trade unions that represent our own work force. We hope to be able to bring that matter to a conclusion, so that we can have a sustainable repair capacity, taking into account the excellent—indeed, world-class—repair capability in our dockyards.

Photo of Mr Christopher Gill Mr Christopher Gill Conservative, Ludlow

Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph reported that the Government had ordered two new aircraft carriers. Will the Minister confirm that? If, as I suspect, that report is erroneous, will he tell the House when the orders for the two new aircraft carriers will be placed?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I have not seen the Sunday Telegraph article to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, we are very much on course with the programme; we have placed contracts for the evaluation and planning of the new aircraft carriers. In parallel with that, we are undertaking the work referred to today—evaluating possible future carrier-borne aircraft in order to provide and maintain that distinctive capability, which as we have seen, even in recent years, is enormously effective in projecting Britain's power and our force for good in the world.

Photo of Mr Syd Rapson Mr Syd Rapson Labour, Portsmouth North

With regard to type 45 destroyers, will my hon. Friend try to ensure that BAE Systems does not become the monopoly shipbuilder in this country and that Vosper Thornycroft can participate in a contract, as agreed at the pre-contract stage, so that shipbuilding remains in Southampton and possibly in Portsmouth?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

There has certainly been no change to the Ministry of Defence procurement strategy for the type 45 destroyer programme, as announced by my right hon. Friend in July 2000. Under the current strategy, we anticipate that Vosper Thornycroft will be subcontracted for a substantial element of work on the first of class and on the assembly and manufacture of the second of class.