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The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): The strategic defence review envisaged an emerging role for maritime forces in a wide range of operations in littoral areas in addition to more traditional naval tasks. It reflected changes in the potential maritime threat, our forces' missions and the likely geographic location of future operations. The Royal Navy has the seagoing capacity to fulfil the role envisaged under the strategic defence review and, as demonstrated by recent deployments to Sierra Leone, has the capacity to react to changing situations. With the introduction of type 45 destroyers, the planned replacement aircraft carriers and the Astute class submarines, the Royal Navy will continue to be very well placed to meet its missions effectively.
Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I declare an interest as I, too, am part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme and served for six days with HMS Cumberland in the Gulf. Which fleet submarines are currently at sea and operational? I understand that, as of last October, no submarines were able to go to the Gulf to assist HMS Cumberland. My information is that there are plans to scrap HMS Sovereign before her time for withdrawal is due; all 12 of the hunter-killer classes are currently being investigated after coolant leaks; HMS Spartan is in refit; HMS Superb, Sceptre and Splendid are undergoing safety inspections; and all seven of the modern Trafalgar class ships are out of action. Does that not leave our other naval vessels completely exposed--with no submarine defences?
Mr. Spellar: The international security situation does not bear out the particular fears expressed by the hon. Lady; of course, if there were to be a change, we would take emergency action. I confirm that seven of the SSNs are affected by a problem to the pipework that forms part of the reactor cooling system. A repair programme--
Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman is jumping about in his usual excitable way. Nearly all those vessels were purchased and built during the period when the Conservatives were in government. I do not know why he thinks that this is a party political point.
A repair programme is in place. Four other SSNs are undergoing refit, maintenance or repair; HMS Triumph has been inspected, is free of the flaw and remains available for programming. I am also pleased to
Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I, too, had the invaluable and rewarding experience of spending five to six days on HMS Cumberland as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, along with the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). I pay tribute to the captain, officers and crew of HMS Cumberland and to the rest of our Royal Navy. Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government's commitment to warship building and to maintaining a repair and refit capacity at Rosyth dockyard and other UK facilities?
Mr. Spellar: As I pointed out earlier, we have already launched a considerable programme of new warship construction. Indeed, it is one of the biggest programmes ever undertaken by this country and will help to keep the Royal Navy at the forefront of the world's navies--especially in its blue water capability. My hon. Friend will be aware that a study is being undertaken of warship maintenance. It is considering the capability both in our own dockyards and in those of several of the private contractors. Considerable discussion is taking place with the companies concerned and, obviously, with the trade unions that represent our own work force. We hope to be able to bring that matter to a conclusion, so that we can have a sustainable repair capacity, taking into account the excellent--indeed, world-class--repair capability in our dockyards.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph reported that the Government had ordered two new aircraft carriers. Will the Minister confirm that? If, as I suspect, that report is erroneous, will he tell the House when the orders for the two new aircraft carriers will be placed?
Mr. Spellar: I have not seen the Sunday Telegraph article to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, we are very much on course with the programme; we have placed contracts for the evaluation and planning of the new aircraft carriers. In parallel with that, we are undertaking the work referred to today--evaluating possible future carrier-borne aircraft in order to provide and maintain that distinctive capability, which as we have seen, even in recent years, is enormously effective in projecting Britain's power and our force for good in the world.
Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North): With regard to type 45 destroyers, will my hon. Friend try to ensure that BAE Systems does not become the monopoly shipbuilder in this country and that Vosper Thornycroft can participate in a contract, as agreed at the pre-contract stage, so that shipbuilding remains in Southampton and possibly in Portsmouth?
Mr. Spellar: There has certainly been no change to the Ministry of Defence procurement strategy for the type 45 destroyer programme, as announced by my right hon. Friend in July 2000. Under the current strategy, we anticipate that Vosper Thornycroft will be subcontracted for a substantial element of work on the first of class and on the assembly and manufacture of the second of class.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): It is our intention to proceed with the implementation of the core competence model for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency of the public-private partnership that my right hon. Friend outlined in his statement to the House on 24 July last year. Under core competence, about three quarters of the DERA organisation will be turned into a company, referred to as NewDERA. For strategic reasons, the remainder will be retained within the Ministry of Defence to carry out functions that could not appropriately be transferred to the private sector. The capabilities provided by DERA, Aberporth will form part of the new company and will therefore transfer to the private sector.
May I draw the Minister's attention to DERA's application for Aberporth under the capital modernisation fund? That is an extremely exciting prospect for regional economic development in a rural area and will put NewDERA on the right footing. However, indications from Treasury officials are not so good. What can his Department do to get the best possible application for Aberporth so that it has the best possible future?
Dr. Moonie: I am happy to the tell the hon. Gentleman that we are considering two options for Aberporth's future that DERA and the Ministry of Defence have been discussing with the Welsh Development Agency and local bodies. The first is a gradual improvement to the runway and associated radar and terminal facilities, possibly in partnership with a private operator, to bring the facilities up to a standard that would allow them to be licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority.
The second option involves a possible redevelopment of the technical site and its expansion on to part of the airfield to form a business park. That would be done in conjunction with the WDA and would also accommodate staff from the privatised DERA. We very much hope that the redeveloped DERA facility will attract firms to move into the area and create further employment opportunities.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Is it not ironic that the new organisation, which is being formed in the teeth of the opposition of the unanimous view of the Defence Committee, our allies in the United States and Her Majesty's Opposition, should receive a final insult under new Labour, which, having betrayed DERA, has decided to call it NewDERA?
The reforms that we have put in place to improve the equipment acquisition process of the Ministry of Defence have made good progress and substantial savings have been made. We completed the implementation phase of the smart procurement initiative in summer 2000 with the final roll-out of 138 integrated project teams. We are sustaining and broadening smart procurement principles under what we now call smart acquisition.
Mr. St. Aubyn: A company in my constituency had to take a prime contractor of the Ministry to court to obtain payment, and since then has received no work from the contractor. Will the Minister confirm that payments to prime contractors under the smart procurement initiative have been delayed because the Ministry has lost control of the delegated payments and it has run out of money this year?
Dr. Moonie: I clearly cannot comment on an individual case without prior notice. We are well aware of the problems that contractors and subcontractors may experience if payment is not made promptly and we do our very best to correct them.
Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): Is my hon. Friend aware that when the Conservatives left office they left a legacy of £3.25 billion of overcost on the top25 equipment projects? When we consider that alongside the cuts that were so damaging to the strategic performance of our armed forces, we see that it surely proves to the people of this country that we should never again trust the Conservatives with the defence of our nation.
Dr. Moonie: You, Mr. Speaker, will not be surprised that I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I am happy to say that thanks to our improvements to the procurement process, we are on course to save some £2 billion.
Dr. Moonie: That is another piece of iterative behaviour from Conservative Members. We have considered the question of the cannon at great length on many occasions. It is the wish of our Royal Air Force that the cannon should not be fitted to this aircraft because it might cause problems, and we are happy to go along with that.