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Aircraft Carriers

14. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When he next expects to meet BAE Systems plc to discuss the aircraft carrier project. [221303]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I hold regular meetings with a number of defence companies, including BAE Systems, to discuss a variety of defence procurement projects.

Mr. Bellingham: Does the Secretary of State share our concern that the appointment of Kellogg, Brown and Root as systems integrator will lead to confusion and uncertainty at BAE Systems and Thales? Does he understand why staff at BAE in particular are so angry and disillusioned and can he confirm to the House that delivery of the first carrier will still take place in 2012? That will be two years before the joint strike fighter becomes available. Can he also confirm that there will be no reduction in the size and tonnage of the two carriers?

Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is relying on somewhat out-of-date press cuttings. If he had read his newspaper clippings a little more contemporaneously he would have discovered that there is actually an agreement on the way ahead as far as the alliance is concerned and that all parties are content with the arrangements that have been agreed. On the in-service date of the carriers and the joint combat aircraft, we anticipate receiving the first JCA some time around 2011. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, the in-service date for the first carrier is 2012. We anticipate a long period of training and trials in preparation for the in-service date for both capabilities operating together. I see no difficulty about the time scale that we have set out.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): There is a substantial amount of shipbuilding work in the aircraft carrier programme and the shipyard workers of Tyneside hope to do some of it. Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that it was the last Conservative Government who closed Swan Hunter shipyard? The yard is back working on projects for the Ministry of Defence, so will he assure the House that Swan Hunter is a valued supplier of work to the MOD and will he condemn absolutely the hate campaign that is being run from the Opposition Benches against Swan Hunter and the shipyard workers of Tyneside?

Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. It would appear that the Conservatives are at least being consistent in their attitude not only to Swan Hunter but to British manufacturing generally. What is important is that we continue to have constructive conversations on the future of Swan Hunter and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the efforts that he has made to secure work for that yard.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): May I ask the Secretary of State about some more up-to-date comments? Does he agree with Mike Turner, the chief executive officer of BAE Systems, who said that ship
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designs will be scaled down? Or does he agree with Chris Geoghegan, the BAE man in charge of the carrier programme, who said:

What is the alternative plan if the US scraps the jump-jet version of the joint strike fighter? Where will the extra billion pounds or so come from, as everybody now agrees that the £2.9 billion set aside for the carrier programme is woefully inadequate?

Mr. Hoon: There go the Conservatives again. Yet again, they are talking down British defence, British manufacturing industry and the future of our armed forces. If the hon. Gentleman cannot recognise a major company's negotiating ploy, he does not deserve to be in government.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that the average age of a skilled worker on the Tyne is 50. As the aircraft carrier programme is not due to start for some time yet, those skills could be lost to UK industry, with the great threat that UK ships could be built by imported foreign labour. Will my right hon. Friend make every effort to bring some work forward in the short term, whether it is refurbishment or refit—anything to ensure that we keep British jobs in British yards to build British ships?

Mr. Hoon: We have made it absolutely clear that British warships will be built in British yards. An enormous amount of work is in prospect for British yards in the excellent programme of warship construction that we have set out. I shall continue to discuss with my hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Friends the future of particular British yards.

Trident Replacement

15. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): When he expects to announce plans for the replacement of Trident submarines. [221304]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The decision on whether or not to replace Trident is likely to be required during the next Parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, which is an enormous surprise. Will he take this opportunity to say that Britain will be the first of the five declared nuclear powers to declare its full adherence to the 1970 non-proliferation treaty, that Trident will not be replaced when it reaches the end of its life and that we will become the first permanent member of the Security Council voluntarily to give up our nuclear weapons, as we are bound to do under the terms of the treaty, signed 35 years ago?

Mr. Hoon: The non-proliferation treaty does not prevent existing member states from retaining or indeed replacing their existing nuclear capability, so I hope that my hon. Friend will study the terms of the treaty more closely in future.

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Commission for Africa

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Commission for Africa.

That is the conclusion of the Commission for Africa's report, which was published on 11 March. Seventeen commissioners appointed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—the majority of whom are Africans—spent the last year assessing evidence and reaching out to the continent of Africa. We talked and listened to ordinary Africans, politicians, leaders of regional institutions, business people, trade unionists, academics and religious and civil leaders. We were supported by an outstanding secretariat, to which I pay tribute, as I also do to many hon. Members on both sides of the House who took such an interest in the commission's work. The report is the richer for all those contributions.

We live in a world of increasing prosperity, in which more people around the world share every year, but one continent—Africa—has been left behind. This year, 4 million African children will die before their fifth birthday. Millions more who survive will not go to school and will grow up to lead lives of abject poverty and frequent hunger. As the Prime Minister said on Friday, that is the fundamental moral challenge of our generation.

The report is painfully honest. It tells the truth about the corrosive effects of corruption and conflict in Africa. It tells the truth about the things that Africa needs to change. It is equally honest about the past broken promises of rich countries and about the things that we must now do. It also recognises, however, that there are signs of hope. There is more democracy in Africa than before. More Governments are trying to do the right thing by their people. There are fewer conflicts. In some countries, economies are now growing strongly for the first time in years, and poor people are being lifted out of poverty. And best of all, Africans are taking responsibility for Africa, with the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development—NEPAD—having set out the continent's vision of its own future.

The report is clear that more ad hoc initiatives are not the answer. It sets out a comprehensive plan of action for implementation by Africa and by the rest of the world. It shows that Africa can absorb much more aid and can put it to good use to rebuild basic health care and education, to help countries scrap user fees that stop poor children going to school or poor families getting medical care, to assist in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and to reverse the decline in investment in water and sanitation. Aid to Africa should be doubled and made more reliable. The international finance facility should be launched immediately. For poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which need it, there should be 100 per cent. debt service cancellation as soon as possible.

The future of Africa lies, rightly, in the hands of its people and Governments. While Africa acts, as it must, to improve governance and tackle corruption, rich countries need to stop holding back Africa. We must
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make the international trade system fairer and end the damage that export subsidies are doing, while Africa increases its own capacity to trade. To do that, and to increase economic growth, Africa needs major investment in infrastructure. Leaving it to the private sector alone has not worked, so the report recommends a new $10 billion a year infrastructure fund, alongside proposals to improve the investment climate in Africa and to boost agriculture.

Finally, the report recommends support for the African Union's new leadership in peace and security and for Africa's increasingly important regional institutions, and it proposes a new monitoring mechanism to hold the world to account for implementing what the report tells us needs to be done.

The Government are committed to playing their part in responding to the report. We have already set out a timetable to reach the United Nations 0.7 per cent. aid target, and we are leading the world with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's proposals on the international finance facility and on multilateral debt relief. We are on course to double aid to Africa by 2010, and we will need to do more to support good governance and tackle corruption.

This is not a report, however, to the UK alone; it is a report to all of us. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is committed to putting the commission's recommendations before our G8 colleagues and to doing so with determination. To succeed, we will need to harness the energy of all those who share the report's vision.

Most important of all, this report shows us that something can be done. It tells us how, and what it will cost. We—this generation—can no longer claim that we did not know about the condition of Africa or what to do to help it to change its future. Our challenge now is to do it. If we fail to act, as Africans or as the rest of the world, those who will come after us will ask how it was that people who were so aware of the suffering and so capable of responding chose to look away. If, however, we do act, we will help to build a safer, more secure and more just world. The choice is ours, and it is by the decisions that we make that we will be judged.

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