HC Deb 02 May 1962 vol 658 cc1011-2
21. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty to what extent Her Majesty's Government are committed to building new atomic submarines and aircraft carriers; and what is the estimated cost.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)

Her Majesty's Government's commitments in these fields are shown in my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates 1962–63. It is not the practice to reveal shipbuilding cost before completion.

Mr. Hughes

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that The Times published estimates of the likely cost of these vessels which show that we are committed to a colossal expenditure on ships which will be obsolete before they are completed? Is he further aware that a large amount of skilled labour and organisational capacity has been devoted to these ships when it is needed more for reorganising the shipbuilding industry?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am afraid that I cannot be responsible for reports in newspapers, nor can I comment on them. However, I would say on the second point that I should have thought the Admiralty shipbuilding programme, which is set out in considerable detail in last year's Estimates, was of considerable help to our shipbuilding industry and should be very welcome on the Clyde and the Tyne, in Northern Ireland and in other parts which look to us for orders.

Mr. Hughes

As the hon. Gentleman says that he has communicated with the Daily Express, would he also communicate with The Times and find out whether the figures were accurate?

Mr. Willis

As there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not a decision has been made about proceeding with the construction of aircraft carriers, could the hon. Gentleman tell us what the present position is?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The present position is that we are spending some money on the design of a future aircraft carrier but there is no question of placing an order yet; nor is there any need to place an order for the successor to the "Victorious".

Dame Irene Ward

Is my hon. Friend aware how many Members on this side of the House welcome the Admiralty programme? May I also ask whether this vast expenditure will be properly spread around all the rivers and not concentrated on one side of the country?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I think the degree of spread will depend not on the pressure from individual Members in this House but on the degree of competitiveness of the different shipbuilding firms. Those which are most efficient will get the orders and thus help the Navy and the taxpayers.

Mr. Shinwell

Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the estimated cost could not be revealed until the completion of the vessel? If so, that is a very strange observation. Does it indicate that the estimates bear no relation to the actual cost?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

No. If I may put the right hon. Gentleman right, what happens is that we publish the estimated building cost in the Navy Estimates for the year following on the completion of the vessel. The actual costs when the full detailed accounts have been worked out are made available to the Public Accounts Committee. That is the arrangement which has always existed under successive Governments.

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