Aircraft Carriers

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 25th October 2004.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy PPS (Rt Hon Nick Raynsford, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 2:30 pm, 25th October 2004

If he will make a statement on the progress of the CVF programme to design and build two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The future aircraft carrier programme remains in the assessment phase and continues in line with the statement made to the House on 19 July. The programme is making good progress. The assessment phase is about de-risking the various issues involved. The design is well advanced and the partners are working closely together to deliver what undoubtedly will be a major uplift in capabilities. It remains our intention to take the main investment decision for the demonstration and manufacture phases in 2005.

Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy PPS (Rt Hon Nick Raynsford, Minister of State), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. All the major dockyards will be aware of the important role that the future aircraft carrier will play in our capabilities. He will be aware of the important role played by Devonport in introducing competition to procurement and of the undertaking that the major warship refit programme will be subject to full competition from 2005. Will he assure the people of Devonport that that undertaking in respect of competition will not be affected by capacity issues at the sites where the future aircraft carrier is likely to be built or assembled?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend asks a good and interesting question. In my initial response, I indicated that competition delivers well for us, sharpening both quality and value delivery, and I cannot envisage us departing from that underlying approach. At the same time, of course, we have to ensure that we retain capability both in ship repair and refit, and in build capacity.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

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?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

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.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West

What commitment will my right hon. Friend give the work force at Rosyth that the dockyard will be awarded a major part of the construction and systems fitting on the future aircraft carrier, as a yard that stands out across the UK for delivering on cost, on time and to the highest standards?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I would like to be able to announce today precisely what is to happen. I have described the process in which we are involved, which is now in the assessment phase; certain aspects still have to be worked through, although the design is now reaching maturity. Once all that has been finally assessed, apportionment of the various elements of the build will take place. My hon. Friend will therefore have to wait for an answer to her question.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Shadow Minister (Defence)

Surely the appointment of a physical integrator to manage not the project but the contract for the aircraft carrier project will only add a needless extra tier of bureaucracy, increase the cost and further delay that vital programme. Does the right hon. Gentleman still stand by the in-service date of 2012, or will the project go the same way as the Eurofighter Typhoon and the future rapid effects system battlefield vehicle: seven years of hard labour—escalating costs to the left of them, delays to the right of them?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

Had previous Administrations employed the concept of a physical integrator in some of those previous procurement streams, we might not have experienced the cost overruns and delays that we did. The physical integrator will work with all the potential shipyards, manufacturing facilities and allied participants to draw up a cost-effective strategy covering the manufacturing element of the programme. That part of the process will examine the core requirements: innovation, prioritisation of design activities, block integration and management of the shipbuild strategy. That seems to me to be a sensible approach to ensure that we stay on programme. Finally, yes, we are committed to reach the in-service date as previously announced.

Photo of Neil Turner Neil Turner PPS (Rt Hon Ian McCartney, Minister without Portfolio), Minister Without Portfolio

The carrier vessel future programme is vital to our defence and to our shipbuilding industry. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that as much of the design and shipbuilding as possible is given to yards in this country, especially Barrow in the north-west, to ensure that we retain skills within the UK?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I have nothing further to add to what I said to my hon. Friend Rachel Squire. All of this is being assessed. Those who offer the best solutions, the best innovative skills and are best placed to make a contribution and ensure that we keep on programme will, I am sure, be considered sympathetically in the placing and formulation of the final contract—there is everything to play for.