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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to use the word "possibility"; ultimately, a commercial decision will be made by Vosper Thornycroft, but I understand that it is considering the matter carefully.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): It would be churlish not to welcome the placing of this order--and, in particular, not to recognise the innovative approach being adopted for design, with the involvement of BAE and Vosper at that stage. Will the Secretary of State confirm that one of the advantages of the design will be to provide a higher standard of accommodation for all ranks who serve on the ship?
I respectfully say to the right hon. Gentleman that he rather pushed aside the question of the roll on/roll off ferries, and there is no doubt that there is considerable anxiety about that order. I hope that he will be able to tell the House that he expects to make an announcement about the Government's position very soon.
Should not we recognise the fact that there has been some trade-off between cost and capability because of funding constraints? The Secretary of State does not have
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's observations. He is right to say that one of the advantages of the new designs is significantly to improve accommodation for those who work on board the ship. I know that he had to raise the question of ro-ros, but I am at a loss as to why that is considered relevant to today's statement. [Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends suggests that for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, every cloud has a silver--[Laughter.] Perhaps I will forget about that, but it was a good joke the way my hon. Friend told it to me.
As for cost and capability, we have to recognise that there are limitless capabilities that can be incorporated into any given ship. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned some, and the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) mentioned others. It is always necessary to make an assessment of what we want any given ship to do. The Royal Navy is entirely happy--indeed, pleased--about the prospect that this ship, whose primary function will be defensive, against an attack from the air, will have a full range of equipment for that purpose. In addition, there will be opportunities for adjusting and enhancing that capability in future. That is built into the design. As I have said, the danger, otherwise, is that we design a ship for today's technology, knowing that it cannot enter service until 2007, as this one will. The reality is that technology and the strategic situation will have changed by then, and we shall not have the opportunity of making adjustments to the design. The design of the ship allows for changes and enhancements as we go along; that must be a smart way of dealing with the problem of a changing strategic environment.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): Is the Secretary of State aware that as he was preparing his statement, Cammell Laird was declaring record profits, output and employment growth? Does it puzzle my right hon. Friend as much as it puzzles me that this premier group of yards, which wins its orders from a worldwide market, finds it so difficult to fight its way through the public procurement procedure? If he is as puzzled as I am, will he ponder on that before he makes his next group of announcements, to which I look forward?
Mr. Hoon: Certainly, as I made clear, there will be the opportunity for other yards to bid for the modules for the construction of the third ship and for subsequent ships, bearing in mind the fact that we have made an announcement in relation to the first three of a planned
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Is it smart procurement to make the statement months before a contract will be placed?
Mr. Hoon: The issue for the House is to be informed of the Government's intentions as soon as those intentions become clear. We have done that. Had we delayed, we would have been criticised for delaying. We are giving the House as much information as we can as early as we can.
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): Please forgive me, Madam Speaker, for appearing before you improperly dressed. I had not expected this statement to be made today.
Will the Secretary of State accept from me that this is wonderful news for the Clyde, for Glasgow and for the hard pressed economy of west central Scotland? It is especially gratifying that the first of class of the new type 45s, which I hope will never have to be used in anger, will go down the slipway of the first-class Yarrow shipbuilders in Scotstoun in my constituency, where the work force is grieving the untimely death, at a very young age, of the shop stewards' convener, Stewart Crawford? In a dark week for the work force, my right hon. Friend's announcement will come as great news.
Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that it is "dauntless", even "daring", for us to have an unexpected visit from the three Scottish National party Members? If they had their way, made England a foreign country and broke up the United Kingdom, none of those ships and none of those jobs would be coming to Scotland.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is certainly good news for Glasgow, for the Clyde and for the United Kingdom, whose Royal Navy is ordering these ships.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Is it not ironic that the most Europhile Secretary of State for Defence that we have had for a long time should be announcing, in essence, a national programme to fulfil an area of our defence requirement for the Royal Navy that could not be fulfilled either by the NFR 90 or by the Horizon project collaborative European programmes before it?
Is there not a risk that the type 42s will have to continue for an inordinately long time--longer than anticipated--at an extra cost to the Exchequer, as estimated by the National Audit Office, of £537 million? Furthermore, is there not a risk that the principal anti-air missile system, which is in essence a Franco-Italian ASTER missile system, could be late, with a further augmentation to cost and a further deficiency in the overall capability of an already under-equipped ship?
Mr. Hoon: As I made clear to the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench on defence, we
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): May I tell the Secretary of State clearly and unequivocally what a wonderful man he is for announcing the order, which will create and safeguard so many jobs on Clydeside? May I say how much I, and my constituents south of the Clyde, welcome the way in which the ships will be built? That will mean work going to Govan shipyard, as well as to Yarrow. May I ask him, however, about the engines of the ships? Will the Rolls-Royce WR21 engine be selected in due course? As he is probably aware, a number of export orders depend on whether that engine gains credibility by powering the vessel. Finally, although modesty precludes my suggesting any name for the D class, should my own be suggested, I would not resist its use.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations, although he will forgive me for saying that I have not been used--lately, at any rate--to enjoying such enthusiasm on the part of my hon. Friends north of the border. No decisions have yet been taken about the engines. A fiercely competitive commercial contract is on offer for them. Rolls-Royce is certainly one of the bidders, and I am sure that it will submit an extremely competitive and effective tender. As for my hon. Friend's final observation, I shall have to investigate with my naval historians whether there has ever been an HMS Davidson--although there is a first time for everything.