Project ISOLUS

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:46 pm on 6th January 2004.

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Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence 3:46 pm, 6th January 2004

My hon. Friend, who also takes a very close interest in the matter, should just keep arguing away. He may get a Christmas present. Who knows? That will depend on the quality of the argument, not on the relationship that he has drawn. If we build warships, we must build them through quality, not because of displacing effort elsewhere. As he well knows, we have not come to a final conclusion as to where all the construction for our warship programme will take place. That is why I advise him to keep the pressure on. He is very good at that.

We have learned lessons from the consultation exercise and have received useful proposals on how the process can be improved. They will be taken forward in the next consultation, and we expect them to be incorporated in the proposals of whatever organisation is selected to advise on, and run, the process for us.

Where does the project go from here? Lancaster university is analysing the outcome of the latest consultations with the intention of issuing a report and recommendations to which the Ministry of Defence will formally respond. As with the front-end consultation, both the Lancaster university report and our response to it will be made public. That should happen in the early part of next year. As I made clear earlier, there may be refinement of, and revision to, the existing bids, or a new option may emerge. If it has merit, we will undertake further public consultation.

We have been criticised for appearing to let industry drive the debate. Again, that is not the case. The expertise and skills required in dismantling submarines and storing the radioactive waste lie in the private sector, and its involvement is essential if that is to be successful. The form that the relationship will take is still being decided, but it is clear that a close partnership will be needed between the MOD and the contractor. The procurement strategies under consideration for the final stage are private finance initiative, partnering and prime contracting. Of course, the input of industrial expertise is essential.

Informed by the public consultation, we will complete our evaluation of the outline proposals and determine which ones warrant further development. The selected companies will then be invited to begin more detailed negotiations, which are expected to last some three years, during which the Ministry and the companies will work together to develop the proposed solutions in greater detail. At the end of that process and following a further round of public consultation, a preferred bidder, storage solution and site will be announced.

We must deal with this complex issue. We are doing so in a constructive, open and careful way. I hope that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute is prepared to recognise that such matters of national importance cannot be driven by the narrow perspective of "not in my backyard".