Aircraft Carriers

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 14th March 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister 2:30 pm, 14th March 2005

When he next expects to meet BAE Systems plc to discuss the aircraft carrier project.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I hold regular meetings with a number of defence companies, including BAE Systems, to discuss a variety of defence procurement projects.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister

Does the Secretary of State share our concern that the appointment of Kellogg, Brown and Root as systems integrator will lead to confusion and uncertainty at BAE Systems and Thales? Does he understand why staff at BAE in particular are so angry and disillusioned and can he confirm to the House that delivery of the first carrier will still take place in 2012? That will be two years before the joint strike fighter becomes available. Can he also confirm that there will be no reduction in the size and tonnage of the two carriers?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is relying on somewhat out-of-date press cuttings. If he had read his newspaper clippings a little more contemporaneously he would have discovered that there is actually an agreement on the way ahead as far as the alliance is concerned and that all parties are content with the arrangements that have been agreed. On the in-service date of the carriers and the joint combat aircraft, we anticipate receiving the first JCA some time around 2011. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, the in-service date for the first carrier is 2012. We anticipate a long period of training and trials in preparation for the in-service date for both capabilities operating together. I see no difficulty about the time scale that we have set out.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend

There is a substantial amount of shipbuilding work in the aircraft carrier programme and the shipyard workers of Tyneside hope to do some of it. Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that it was the last Conservative Government who closed Swan Hunter shipyard? The yard is back working on projects for the Ministry of Defence, so will he assure the House that Swan Hunter is a valued supplier of work to the MOD and will he condemn absolutely the hate campaign that is being run from the Opposition Benches against Swan Hunter and the shipyard workers of Tyneside?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. It would appear that the Conservatives are at least being consistent in their attitude not only to Swan Hunter but to British manufacturing generally. What is important is that we continue to have constructive conversations on the future of Swan Hunter and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the efforts that he has made to secure work for that yard.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (Defence)

May I ask the Secretary of State about some more up-to-date comments? Does he agree with Mike Turner, the chief executive officer of BAE Systems, who said that ship designs will be scaled down? Or does he agree with Chris Geoghegan, the BAE man in charge of the carrier programme, who said:

"On the current model, there is a gap between the design they want and the budget available . . . The design will have to be rethought this summer, making it virtually impossible to meet the in-service date of 2012."

What is the alternative plan if the US scraps the jump-jet version of the joint strike fighter? Where will the extra billion pounds or so come from, as everybody now agrees that the £2.9 billion set aside for the carrier programme is woefully inadequate?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

There go the Conservatives again. Yet again, they are talking down British defence, British manufacturing industry and the future of our armed forces. If the hon. Gentleman cannot recognise a major company's negotiating ploy, he does not deserve to be in government.

Photo of Stephen Hepburn Stephen Hepburn Labour, Jarrow

The Secretary of State will be aware that the average age of a skilled worker on the Tyne is 50. As the aircraft carrier programme is not due to start for some time yet, those skills could be lost to UK industry, with the great threat that UK ships could be built by imported foreign labour. Will my right hon. Friend make every effort to bring some work forward in the short term, whether it is refurbishment or refit—anything to ensure that we keep British jobs in British yards to build British ships?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

We have made it absolutely clear that British warships will be built in British yards. An enormous amount of work is in prospect for British yards in the excellent programme of warship construction that we have set out. I shall continue to discuss with my hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Friends the future of particular British yards.