HC Deb 14 January 1986 vol 89 cc913-4
10. Mr. Merchant

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on future orders for type 23 ships.

Mr. Lee

Tenders have been received for the next three type 23 frigates and these are being evaluated, but the precise size and timing of any orders have yet to be determined.

Mr. Merchant

In view of the excellent record of the defence industries on the Tyne, will my hon. Friend give urgent attention to providing orders for Swan Hunter and other yards on the Tyne? Will he also take the opportunity to look closely at the Vickers Valkyr APC, which is manufactured by Vickers on the Tyne, and which could provide excellent service for the Army?

Mr. Lee

I shall certainly look into the latter point. On my hon. Friend's first point, I have to say that the Ministry of Defence is not in the business of providing orders for any particular yard. I emphasise that these days we place orders on the basis of competition, and in our warship yards, fortunately, we have substantial competition.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Are any aspects of the original decision to reject the S90 short, fat ship in favour of the type 23 officially secret—apart from the weapons system and information on the weapons system?

Mr. Lee

The hon. Member asks about the S90. All the options were exhaustively examined in 1983, and I have nothing to add to the statement that I made to the House on 1 November 1983. The way for the Ministry of Defence to make sure that it gets value for money is to proceed with the design that it has, and we shall accordingly be starting to order follow-on type 23 ships this year. I cannot comment on Admiral Hill-Norton's report until it is received and I have had an opportunity to study it. My Department has offered assistance to the committee.

Mr. Colvin

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, following receipt of the Hill-Norton report and his study of it, he will carry out a review of the procedures under which decisions on ship design are made?

Mr. Lee

I take my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Minister confirm that the Government are still committed to a 50-warship navy? The present rate of ordering means that we will be far short of that number by the end of the decade unless something happens quickly.

Mr. Lee

I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that there has been no change in the Government's intention to maintain a force of about 50 escort vessels.

Mr. Wallace

Does not the apparent delay in placing the orders for type 23 frigates and the delays in buying essential new equipment for other services, which is leading to a drop in morale in the services, indicate that there is a need for an overall defence review? Will his right hon. Friend, who is a new broom in the Ministry of Defence, set about instituting such a review?

Mr. Lee

With great respect, I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can say that. Ten days or a fortnight ago we placed about £1 billion worth of naval orders.

Mr. McQuarrie

Although I accept what my hon. Friend has said about competition for the type 23, may I ask whether he agrees that the efficient and skilled work force at Scott Lithgow in Gourock on the lower Clyde must be considered in the context of maintaining it if we are to develop Ministry of Defence requirements in the years to come?

Mr. Lee

I understand that, but we have substantial existing capacity in our warship yards. That is the reality under consideration.