The United Kingdom's Future Nuclear Deterrent Capability - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-128)



  Q120  Mr Williams: It sounds a rather equivocal guarantee, if I may say so, from where I am sitting.

  Sir Bill Jeffrey: Grounded in optimism because I think we are genuinely better placed to deliver this programme on time than might have been the case in the past. As I have said once or twice during this hearing, bear in mind that our predecessors did succeed in delivering the Vanguard on time and to cost.

  Q121  Mr Williams: You are saying, "I think we are", you are not saying, "I am sure we are".

  Sir Bill Jeffrey: I am confident, but it would be a very unwise—

  Q122  Mr Williams: You are confident, but. What is the but?

  Sir Bill Jeffrey: But this is difficult and it has got a lot of risks in it. We need to do our best to manage these risks successfully.

  Mr Williams: I regret I will not be here when the crucial time comes to look at whether you were right or wrong. Thank you, Chairman.

  Q123  Chairman: I think, gentlemen, that concludes our inquiry. It has been very interesting and a worthwhile exercise. Clearly this Committee is going to have to come back and look at this after September. I do not know about my colleagues, but I am certainly extremely concerned about this point that we are going to have to design these submarines before the Americans make their final decision on the design of the missile compartment, which appears to be the absolutely crucial point. The Admiral has done his level best to try and reassure us. He is now shaking his head, and, in all fairness, I think I should give him a chance to reply to that point. It is something that is worrying us because there is absolutely no room for manoeuvre here, these things have to be delivered on time. What worries me is we are such a minnow compared to the Americans, they are taking such vast decisions compared to us that I would have thought our bargaining position with them if there is any problem with the design of the missile compartment is quite weak. It is only fair the Admiral has a last say.

  Rear Admiral Mathews: Just to give you a feel for the programme, Chairman. Our aim is that we are going to design these missile compartments with the Americans. We have not decided where we are going to build them, it might be the UK, the US, it might be both.

  Q124  Chairman: That is a fairly crucial point for a start.

  Rear Admiral Mathews: This an ongoing piece of work, as you would expect. Just to give you a feel for how these missile compartments come out: numbers 1 and 2 will be for the UK, number 3 will be for the US, so that missile compartment will be in construction when the first compartment is delivered to the UK.

  Q125  Chairman: Will be in construction?

  Rear Admiral Mathews: Will be in construction.

  Q126  Chairman: We do not even know, but you think they will be built in America now. We have not heard this before.

  Rear Admiral Mathews: What I said is we have not made a decision about where we are going to build them. When I say that, there are a number of options for us about how we do this. If we are building between 3 and 4 for UK, probably between 12 and 16 for the US, how do you productionise this. If you were to count the number of missile tubes, there are over 300 missile tubes, how do you productionise that, how do you drive out cost and make sure you design the productionisation at the start. Those are all the questions that we have got to go through having made the decisions.

  Sir Bill Jeffrey: The reason the Rear Admiral reacts as he does is the whole point of the discussions we are having with the Americans now about the common missile compartment is in essence to advance that crucial decision so that it is taken to influence our build as well as theirs, allowing for the fact that they will be replacing later than we are.

  Q127  Mr Davidson: In relation to this question of the missile tubing and, indeed, other parts possibly being built here, possibly there, the partnership that is going to build the aircraft carrier, and the partnership that is building the Type 45, involves bits being constructed in different locations. Is there any suggestion that any of the American bits will be built in Britain and shipped there, so in terms of driving down cost, as has been done on the aircraft carrier, the longer run and so on and so forth, will any British facilities have contracts for all the UK boats and the American boats as well?

  Rear Admiral Mathews: That was absolutely the point I was trying to make. There is that potential in this deal, it is very different. There are certain UK companies which have world leading capabilities to do this.

  Q128  Mr Davidson: The argument then would be that the American deterrent was not truly independent in as much as it was dependent upon bits being built in Britain.

  Rear Admiral Mathews: If you took, for example, major forgings, which Sheffield Forgemasters make in the UK and potentially make for the US, then I think buying a large forging does not mean that your system becomes dependent on another country, that is done for economic and technical reasons.

  Chairman: That concludes our hearing. May I say that although I was a bit rude about the Senior Responsible Owner, I always try to congratulate a witness where I can when he performs well in this Committee, and Mr Lester has been very clear in his submissions to us and I am very grateful for his fluent testimony, and indeed to the Admiral. Thank you very much indeed.

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