§ 4. Mr. Stephen Ross
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what decisions have so far been taken about the ordering of offshore protection vessels for the Royal Navy.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Keith Speed)
I am pleased to draw the hon. Member's attention to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on 5 March 1980.
§ Mr. Ross
I openly admit that I have not had the benefit of reading that answer. Will the Minister tell us what export potential there is, what, if any, new orders have been placed, what is their likely cost, and whether tests are still to take place with models on the premises of the British Hovercraft Corporation to compare performance with, for instance, the Osprey?
§ Mr. Speed
We do not know of any particular interest in Norway in this type of craft. I was in Norway recently, and I spoke to the Norwegian Chief of Naval Staff only recently. The Norwegians are concentrating on building their own ships. We believe that there is a worldwide need for rugged craft, such as the OPV2, which can operate in tough conditions. We expect British Shipbuilders to pursue energetically the export of this craft.
§ Mr. Speed
The speed of these vessels will be greater than that of the Island class, namely, just under 20 knots. The complement will be a little larger, but not very much. The vessels are larger, being 75m. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said in the earlier part of his question. The Island class has done extremely well, as I am sure those who follow the progress of Island class vessels in assisting our fishing fleets will know. However, we are talking about a class that is larger and rather more sophisticated, and we believe that it will do even better than the Island class vessels. The new vessels are nothing like as expensive as the figures that have been bandied about in the press. I shall be surprised if they cost about half the £15 million that has been mentioned. However, the cost is subject to final contractual arrangements with the shipbuilders.
§ Mr. Butcher
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Soviet Union possesses the largest fleet of hovercraft in the world? Does he agree that that means that we should continue to review with some urgency the provision of hovercraft for the British Navy?