Future Aircraft Carrier

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 15th December 2004.

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Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, International Affairs 2:30 pm, 15th December 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When an announcement will be made of the appointment of the physical integrator for the two new Royal Naval aircraft carriers.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the process to select the physical integrator for the future aircraft carrier project is ongoing, and we anticipate announcing the outcome shortly.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, International Affairs

My Lords, I very much hope that an announcement for such a high-profile project will be made to Parliament first, and not to the media after we have risen. What will the role of the physical integrator be? How will it relate to the existing members of the alliance? Will it be risk-sharing or just taking a fee?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, it is anticipated that each of the two new aircraft carriers will be the equivalent of building approximately seven to eight Type 45 destroyers, which demonstrates how large they will be. Building and physically integrating the vessels is one of the biggest challenges facing the project. The role of the physical integrator is to help to strengthen that aspect of the project. We expect whoever is appointed to work with all potential shipyards—four have been named—manufacturing facilities and alliance participants to draw up a cost-effective strategy covering the manufacturing element of the programme. Among the core requirements are likely to be innovation, the prioritisation of design activities, block integration and management of the ship-build strategy. The role of the physical integrator will not be limited to those tasks.

Noble Lords:

Cross Bench!

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, when are the two vessels expected to be in service? Is the delay in appointing the physical integrator likely to affect the forecast dates?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

No, my Lords. Our planned dates remain 2012 and 2015. We are determined to reach the right decision on who should be the physical integrator. It is more important to get it right than to rush it.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Shadow Minister, Defence

My Lords, if the service date is to be 2012—in the NAO report it was left blank—what role will the physical integrator take in risk management? Without firm targets on when the ships are to be in service, the risk management might well go out of control, as has happened in so many other projects.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, under the alliance structure that we are setting up for this very large procurement, risk management and risks and rewards will be undertaken and accepted by all those who belong to the alliance. That will of course include the physical integrator, alongside the Ministry of Defence, BAe Systems and Thales. Anyone else who is a member of the alliance will be in the same position. I want to make it absolutely clear that the physical integrator will be part of the alliance.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, reluctant as I am to put the Minister on the spot at a sensitive time, may I none the less ask for reassurance on the importance of the issue not only for the Royal Navy but for the future of the shipbuilding industry in different and sometimes rival parts of the country?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate never puts me on the spot, and it is always a sensitive time. We remain fully committed to the aircraft carrier programme, which represents a huge step up in military capability for our Armed Forces. The carriers will be the biggest and most powerful warships ever constructed in the UK. They will be built in the UK under a policy that the previous government and this Government have both adopted. That is very good news for British defence and, in particular, for the British shipbuilding industry.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, what is a physical integrator? Could I qualify to be one?

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I told the House that the competition was ongoing. If the noble Baroness would like to put in a late bid, I am sure that she would stand a very good chance. I did my best to describe what a physical integrator was or should be to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever; it looks like I did not totally succeed.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative

My Lords, are the Government absolutely committed to a particular size for the ships? If so, what is it?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, we are not committed to an absolute size. If the noble and learned Lord will excuse the expression, size is not of the greatest importance here. What matters is the capability that the ships have to do the important job that we have determined they should do and which most people agree is critical for our future forces' structure. They will be the largest ships that we have ever constructed.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I presume that the physical integrator will make sure that the two halves of the ship fit together to the same size.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, my noble friend has great expertise in the railway industry. Of course they will.