§ 12. Mr. Cousins
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress of the future frigate project.
§ Mr. Aitken
Negotiations with France and Italy on the future frigate project are proceeding satisfactorily. I am pleased to announce plans to sign a memorandum of 166 understanding establishing the joint project office in London this summer, subject to agreement being reached on the detailed arrangements for the development of the ship and its weapon systems.
§ Mr. Cousins
Does the Minister accept that there should be more urgency about the project, which is the most important European project that we have for anti-air and anti-missile defence for our naval forces which need that protective condom above them in the sky? Does the Minister agree that there is an urgent need to get the design work for that important project into the work-starved design teams of British shipyards, such as those of Swan Hunter on the Tyne, at the earliest possible date?
§ Mr. Aitken
I cannot join the hon. Gentleman in his colourful metaphors, but I agree that this is an important project. I am delighted to hear such robust sentiments from a member of the party which, at its conference, votes for swingeing cuts in defence. However, the hon. Gentleman should regard it as good news that the joint project office is to open later this summer.