HC Deb 11 March 1980 vol 980 cc1130-1
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

The Osprey is still very much a contender for the potential Hong Kong patrol craft order. The OPV2 is being ordered from Hall-Russell of Aberdeen. We believe that there is considerable export potential. The cachet of a Royal Navy order should enhance that potential.

Mr. Viggers

What are the prospects of a joint venture with Norway, involving this or other craft?

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. Duffy

Does the Minister agree that if the Hall-Russell yard in Aberdeen undertakes this further construction as impressively as it turned out the Island class, both the Royal Navy and the taxpayer will get value for money? Will he say a word to the House about speed and complement?

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?

Mr. Speed

We are reviewing hovercraft, and we have for evaluation the jetfoil HMS "Speedy", a very well-named vessel. It is now fitting out at Vosper Thornycroft and it will be under evaluation later this year. We are looking at jetfoils and hovercraft.