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Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): This is extremely disappointing news for Appledore, a good commercial yard which has worked extremely hard and thrived in the commercial world. The Secretary of State has talked about value for money. We are talking about public money, and money that should be accounted for. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that full details of all successful tenders are placed in the Library for scrutiny?
Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I welcome the good news for Harland and Wolff, Tyneside and Govan. I have yet to meet a shipyard or dockyard worker who wants his success to be paid for at the price of someone else's job. The Government are providing a good balance and a lifeline until the biggest warship order that the UK has seen for years comes into effect. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this makes it even more important that we promote defence diversification to ensure that the excellent engineering skills that we have at Govan and elsewhere find new markets and new opportunities for employment?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can give her the undertaking that she seeks. She has commented knowledgeably on these matters over a long time. I look forward to further discussions with her, especially on defence diversification.
Mr. Hoon: A great deal of work has been undertaken over a long period to identify the appropriate requirement for this sort of equipment. We have access to various vessels on the charter market, but unfortunately they could not be secured. We could have looked round to ascertain whether there were suitable secondhand but necessarily older and dated vessels available. It was judged that the best way of proceeding was in partnership with the private sector. That is precisely the solution that the previous Government arrived at in judging what was the best for the public purse. Given that we do not require the six vessels all the time, it makes sense that they are used commercially to generate income, rather than being left idle for what could be long periods.
Mr. Galloway: As a Member representing one of the yards concerned, I am grateful finally to have caught my right hon. Friend's eye. In reality, his announcement is not good enough. He will have to go the extra mile. The two ALSLs will not be enough to keep the Govan shipyard open and to employ those who depend upon its activities. My right hon. Friend has acknowledged that the steel will not be cut before June next year. However, Govan runs out of steelwork tomorrow. What will happen between tomorrow and June next year?
I underscore the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) that we shall have to have something else. The most obvious answer is the floating platform--the submarine repair dock--for which there is now a vital need. It is even more needed than we imagined hitherto. As its technology is essentially that of a large bathtub, it has the advantage of being able to be started upon tomorrow.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the extent to which he has responded to the campaign of the trade unions, the Secretary of State for Scotland and others, but he will have to go an extra mile. If not, what he has
Mr. Hoon: I understand my hon. Friend's concern about his constituents and the yard. Such considerations have been at the forefront of the Government's collective mind for many months, and he and his colleagues have raised questions with me and other Ministers. However, we have been in close consultation and negotiation with BAE Systems, which has assured us that the work will be sufficient to keep the yard open and, specifically, to bridge the gap until the type 45 work becomes available. If my hon. Friend writes to me, I shall examine the issues he raises sympathetically, but I assure him that those are precisely the issues that we have discussed with BAE Systems and I understand their position to be that the work will preserve the future of Govan and its work force.
Mr. Duncan Smith: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Our debate has turned into a statement. No prior notice was given that such announcements would be made, so many interested hon. Members are not present. The main point is that, as we have just discovered, the Government made the announcement in a press release in Scotland this morning--which goes against what the Speaker and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have said repeatedly. Are not such actions an abuse of the House?
Mr. Hoon: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to anticipate anything you might say, but I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House if I made the announcements in the course of a debate on defence procurement that was already scheduled. Clearly, it would have been possible to have made a statement--taking an hour of parliamentary time--and then to have embarked on the debate, but that seemed a somewhat artificial division, given that the subject matter of both statement and debate is defence procurement--[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the shadow Defence Secretary says that people already knew, but I assure him that, with the exception of those now sitting on the Treasury Bench, no one was aware.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Now that the Secretary of State has responded, let me point out that Mr. Speaker has made it clear that he wants all important decisions that affect the House and that should be heard first by the House to be announced in the House. I know nothing of the press release mentioned, but that is Mr. Speaker's firm position. There is grave danger of an Adjournment debate developing into a statement; it is not a statement, and I have already called for short interventions, so perhaps we can now get on with the business.
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Several hon. Members have been able to make points in interventions, and I am conscious that many more hon. Members want to speak in the debate, so I shall now address the broader subject of the debate: the Government's record on procurement.
Mr. Field: As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) and I represent two of the nine Merseyside constituencies where there are fewer people in work now than at the time of the general election, may I ask what message the decision to place orders with a firm that will build in Germany and probably subcontract work to Poland sends to our constituents about how today's announcement has affected employment prospects for Merseyside? If we stay to the end of my right hon. Friend's speech, will we hear good news for Cammell Laird?
Mr. Hoon: In respect of the ferries, Cammell Laird unfortunately failed to meet the requirements on price and delivery. As for the ALSLs, despite submitting a bid, the company withdrew from the competition, citing, among other reasons, its current commercial commitments. Although I realise that today's announcement will be disappointing to those who work at Cammell Laird and to my right hon. Friend, I have to point out that, compared with other shipyards, it currently has a relatively full order book.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has become perfectly clear from the way in which the debate is proceeding that the Secretary of State is taking innumerable interventions from Labour Members and few--in fact, only one--from Opposition Members, even though the matters being discussed should properly have been the subject of a statement that would have given hon. Members on both sides an equal opportunity to be heard.
Mr. Hoon: The two new ship orders I have announced form part of a wider programme of modernisation of the armed forces--a programme worth £6 billion a year. In addition, on 11 July I announced to the House the first three type 45 destroyers which, at about 7,000 tonnes, are the largest and most powerful air defence destroyers ever ordered for the Royal Navy. The two new survey vessels, HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise, will not only enhance the Navy's survey capability but be capable of supporting mine warfare and amphibious operations. The programme also includes the new assault ships Albion and Bulwark, the new Astute class submarines and, of course, the two