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Aircraft Carriers

3. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): If he will make a statement on the replacement of the Royal Navy's carriers. [58672]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The CVF—carrier vessel (future)—project is progressing well and we remain fully committed to it as part of our extensive programme of new naval shipbuilding. It remains our plan to replace the existing Invincible class carriers with two new, larger and much more capable carriers that will enter service in 2012 and 2015 respectively. Risk reduction and design work on CVF is well advanced. Early next year, we expect to be in a position to select a preferred prime contractor from the two consortiums currently competing, and to approve investment for the build programme at the end of 2003.

Chris Grayling: Does the Minister plan to sell the current HMS Invincible—perhaps to India—to help pay the bill, and if so, when?

Dr. Moonie: Under current plans, Invincible will remain in service until at least 2010. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no discussions have taken place with anybody about the sale of any of our carriers.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the bid by BAE Marine Systems to build the new carriers on the Clyde and, in particular, the envisaged use of Inch Green dry dock in Greenock? He will be aware that that is one of the most advanced dry docks and deep-water births in Europe and that it pioneered the welding together of mass hulls of ships in the early 1970s, with oil tankers. So may I tell him that, at Greenock, we have a readily available work force, the facilities and the experience, and all we need now are the orders?

Dr. Moonie: My hon. Friend will know that I am well aware of the quality of shipbuilding available on the Clyde, particularly in his constituency. It is however still too early in the programme for us to assess the full impact that CVF will have on shipbuilding jobs; what I can say, of course, is that it remains a tremendous opportunity for shipyards throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): The House will be very glad to hear the Minister's reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) that he has no plans to sell HMS Invincible to the Indians, or indeed to anyone else, but I am just a shade puzzled

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by an article in The Sunday Times, dated 2 June. Under the headline "Aircraft carrier on sale to India", it went on to tell us that

That might just be a bit of froth were it not for the fact that it was written by none other than James Clark, the paper's defence correspondent, who, a few weeks previously, had been appointed as the new spin doctor in the Ministry of Defence. Will the Minister now care to tell the House whether or not he is correct in saying that he has no plans to sell Invincible, or whether his spin doctor is correct in saying that the Government do?

Dr. Moonie: I have already set out the Government's position very clearly, and I am not used to having my word questioned in the House. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman, to try to lighten the blow, is that I am often puzzled by some of the stories that appear in The Sunday Times.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): The Minister will be aware of the quality of the work force at the Clyde submarine base and the need to ensure the capacity of that base continues. Given that considerable changes have been taking place in the past few months and that the work force need to look forward to stability in the base's capacity, will he tell us how the contract for Astute class submarines will be awarded?

Dr. Moonie: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's interest in such issues, but I am unable at present to give him any further enlightenment on the basing of the Astute class submarines.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): What will the replacement carriers be carrying?

Dr. Moonie: Oddly enough, things that fly. The primary aircraft will be the future joint combat aircraft. The Lockheed Martin joint strike fighter has been identified as the aircraft with the best potential to fill that role. The ships will also carry maritime airborne surveillance and control aircraft and helicopters from all three services in a variety of roles.

Pilot Recruitment

4. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What recent progress he has made with recruiting additional pilots. [58673]

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): Armed forces' recruitment of pilots is such that, in financial year 2001–02, the recruiting exceeded demanding targets. We are on course to meet fully the pilot recruitment target for this year.

Mr. Swayne: Why have the Government reduced the trained requirement for the Royal Air Force from 54,530 to 49,990 since the strategic defence review?

Mr. Ingram: Of course, manning and training requirements are constantly kept under review. We face a

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number of issues, one of which is, of course, recruitment. I have said in answering the hon. Gentleman's specific question—in which I would have thought he had an interest, but clearly not—recruiting is very high for pilots. We are addressing retention with a wide range of measures, and already the indications are that they will prove successful, but only time will tell just how successful.

Angus Robertson (Moray): Will the Minister consider using additional resources, possibly raised from the commercial use of RAF bases, to help in the retention and training of pilots? Will he perhaps consider instructing RAF Strike Command to widen its ongoing feasibility study into this issue to include RAF Kinloss in my constituency? That would not only offer a possible new revenue stream to help in the retention and training of pilots, but boost desperately needed commercial landing options in the north of Scotland.

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are considering the use of such airfields, but the primacy would be in terms of strategic and military usage. It would be wrong to rule out any option that would enable best use of our existing assets, but that must not undermine or work against that which we ask our armed forces to deliver from those bases.

A340 Air Tanker

5. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): If he will make a statement on the A340 Air Tanker. [58674]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): The future strategic tanker aircraft is planned to replace our current air-to-air refuelling fleet. Two consortiums have submitted bids for this prospective private finance initiative project: AirTanker Ltd., which has proposed the use of Airbus A330 aircraft; and the Tanker Transport Service Company Ltd., which has proposed Boeing 767 aircraft.

I can also announce to the House that having considered the progress made with both consortiums in contract negotiations, it is clear that more time will be required to complete these complex discussions. As a result, we have decided to delay introduction of the PFI service from 2007 to 2008.

Mr. Chapman: My hon. Friend will understand that these are uncertain times for the aerospace industry. May I therefore express regret on behalf of my constituents who work at Broughton, however understandable the reasons for the delay in going ahead with the project? Will my hon. Friend tell me when he expects to make an announcement on preferred bidder status? Will he assure me that, when he examines the bids, he will consider value for money over the whole PFI period and not just the initial capital costs?

Dr. Moonie: We are committed to pursuing a PFI solution to the FSTA requirement as long as it provides the required operational capability at best value for money. The project is currently in a competitive assessment phase. This is one of the largest and most innovative PFIs currently being considered by my Department, and it is small wonder, given its complexity,

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that it is taking the companies bidding longer than we first expected to come forward with detailed proposals. I assure my hon. Friend, however, that we shall consider those very carefully, and that, whatever solution we arrive at to this requirement, we will ensure that it provides the best answer to our needs.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): May I point out to the Under-Secretary that new aircraft, in the form of the A330 200 series, would offer by far the best option, both industrially and technically, inasmuch as they would be new aeroplanes as opposed to refurbished old Boeing 767s? They are appropriate for the proven drogue system, with a drogue under each wing to refuel two aircraft at a time, and have a bigger fuel uplift, too. From every point of view, therefore, they would be the superior option.

Dr. Moonie: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. What we are concerned with, however, is arriving at the best solution overall. The requirement will be intended to fly for something like 27 or 28 years. It is therefore absolutely crucial that we get it right before we embark on what, as I have said, will be one of the most expensive projects in which we have been involved.

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