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Dr. Julian Lewis: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way--at last. He has mentioned the type 45 destroyers several times. Is he aware that hundreds of my constituents and those of his hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) have been issued with protective redundancy notices by Vosper Thornycroft's Woolston shipyard in Southampton? Does he realise that whether they are made redundant depends entirely on whether he firms up one of the type 45 orders by the end of the year? Will he give a commitment to do that? So far this afternoon, he has said nothing that will prevent the closure of the Woolston yard and the loss of hundreds of jobs which could be saved if the MOD simply speeded up its ordering programme.
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman should examine the facts more carefully before raising those matters in such a cavalier manner on the Floor of the House. He knows that commercial discussions are taking place between the prime contractor, BAE Systems, and Vosper Thornycroft. How the issue is resolved is a matter for those two companies, and the Government have made clear their expectation that the matter will be settled between them. It is not a matter of firming up an order. The issue is a commercial one, involving two private sector companies.
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): Is not the Government's strategy on warship shipbuilding in this country to retain and strengthen competition? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that although when the merger with Marconi took place the prime contractor gave an undertaking to ensure that subcontractors in that company family did not have an advantage over outside companies, Vosper Thorneycroft is extremely concerned that it is getting a bad deal compared with BAE Systems' own contractors? Is not that playing poker with the jobs of my constituents?
Mr. Hoon: Those are precisely the commercial negotiations that have to be undertaken, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, consistent with my announcement about the allocation of type 45 work, we expect a proper division of work between Vosper Thornycroft and BAE Systems.
The deployment of Challenger 2 tanks to Kosovo has been a significant success for the Army. The tanks have displayed new standards of performance and reliability. In August, Vickers Defence Systems was selected as the preferred bidder for new armoured engineer vehicles to support Challenger 2. The roll-out of the first Westland Apache attack helicopter took place in spring,
For the RAF, having learned the lessons of Kosovo, we are investing in new anti-armour missiles, an enhanced all-weather precision bombing capability and improved secure air-to-air communications to ensure that our forces can fully play their part in the most demanding of circumstances.
We are acquiring a stand-off precision strike capability in Storm Shadow, a new air-launched cruise missile; we are undertaking major programmes to modernise the strike and air defence variants of the Tornado; and we are buying a major new capability in ASTOR, the airborne stand-off radar.
On top of that, more major programmes are either under way or in our plans--Eurofighter and its new METEOR air-to-air missile, the future carrier-borne aircraft, the future strategic tanker aircraft, and, of course, as I have already mentioned, new transport aircraft in the shape of four C-17s and the A400M. All those are world-class systems. All of them will result in major enhancements to the capability and utility of our forces, and all of them are threatened by the £16 billion cuts guarantee of the Opposition.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I want to shift from aircraft to ships. As a former shipwright, I can well understand the bitterness of those hon. Members whose yards have been excluded from the orders, but I am delighted to hear that Harland and Wolff, that badly pressed yard where constituents of mine work, have the order. I am also pleased that Govan has received the order. However, I emphasise the need to fill the short-term gap in Govan by the construction of the floating platform, which I described earlier today as having all the technology of a gigantic bathtub. The technology is there, and, if that could be brought forward, it would save the highly skilled jobs. The problem in Scotland is that we react traditionally--
Mr. Hoon: I think that I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I must pick him up on his use of the word "excluded". No British shipyard was excluded from bidding for either of the orders. As I have said today, the Government went to a great deal of trouble to ensure that British shipyards were involved and that any of those bidding to provide the service which underlies the ro-ro contract should make it clear why they had not adopted a British solution. Therefore, it is simply not right to suggest that any British yard was excluded. Decisions were wholly consistent with European law and taken on the basis of what was the best value for money.
In addition, BAE Systems has said that the order for two ALSLs is most helpful and will help to secure the future of Govan. There is a clear indication that the Government's decision on ALSLs will provide the necessary support to employment in and around the Clyde.
Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Will the Secretary of State concede that, regardless of which yards have been successful, there has been much uncertainty during the past few months, if not years, and that that in itself is damaging in terms of people leaving skilled jobs with resulting skill shortages in yards? In future, will the MOD's procurement policy try to ensure some continuity of ordering so that yards are not faced with the feasts and famines, the peaks and troughs that they have had in the past?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right. If he examines carefully what I said earlier he will see that the Government have gone to a great deal of trouble in trying to provide a number of different opportunities for a number of different shipyards. But the reality is that, using that platform as a basis from which to operate, those shipyards must go out and win for themselves commercial orders in what I accept is a highly competitive world market, but a world market where a considerable number of ship orders are placed each and every day. This provides an opportunity, but no more than that, for those yards to go out and win work for themselves in the market.
Mr. Wilkinson: The right hon. Gentleman gave a total figure of £3.5 billion for the procurements. What is the breakdown between the leases for the C-17s and the acquisition of the 25 A400Ms? When will the A400Ms start coming into service? Will the C-17s remain on the RAF's books after the A400Ms come into service? Finally, will the C-17s be a lease purchase deal?
Mr. Hoon: I have made it clear, and the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to ask those questions when I made the statement on the matter, that it would be a lease deal for C-17s. They will be available to the RAF in the short term until there is sufficient heavy lift capacity when the 25 A400Ms, or at least the first of those air transport aircraft, come into service. But clearly we will not take a decision today as to precisely when those aircraft will be available. We are in negotiation with our partners who are equally responsible for the A400M. Those are matters that we will decide as and when necessary in the light of the circumstances at the time. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to give specific answers to such questions at this stage. It would simply not be sensible to do so.
I referred to the defence cuts threatened by the Conservative party. During the past three years the Opposition have suggested that we are not spending enough on defence. But lately there seems to have been a slight change of tack by the shadow Chancellor, who now seems to be telling us that we are spending too much. This is an opportunity for Opposition Members to intervene, and I shall cheerfully give way, so that we may know precisely what their policy is--whether we are spending too much or too little and whether we are spending it on the right things or the wrong things.
I have had the benefit of looking carefully at the background briefing note supplied to Conservative Members as part of the Chancellor's spending review. On defence spending, the central office brief states: