§ 1. Mr. Mark Robinson
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the defence gains from the recent award of the contract for a helicopter carrier for the Royal Navy.
§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken)
The new helicopter carrier will significantly enhance the Royal Navy's amphibious capabilities. It will give an amphibious task force the helicopter support needed to deploy or reinforce troops quickly.
§ Mr. Robinson
The decision to award the contract is widely welcomed. Does my hon. Friend agree that the new helicopter platform ship will serve as a pad for the new EH101 helicopter when it comes into service? Will he encourage the Royal Air Force to follow the lead of the Royal Navy and place orders for the helicopter which will do so much to safeguard jobs in the defence industry in the south-west?
§ Mr. Aitken
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for paying tribute to the important order which will indeed enhance our defence capabilities for many years to come. What helicopters will fly from it must depend on the outcome of current studies into the support helicopter requirements. However, I am well aware of my hon. Friend's and many others' strong support and enthusiasm for the EH101. I very much hope that, if the price is right, it may turn out to be our choice, just as the Merlin version was our choice for the Royal Navy.
§ Mr. Hutton
I welcome the Government's decision to place a contract for the new helicopter carrier with Vickers Shipbuilders and. Engineering Ltd. in my constituency, but will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that, if the Royal Navy is to have a fully effective and operational 154 amphibious capability, the Government will need to place further orders for the replacement for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid? When will those orders be placed?
§ Mr. Aitken
The hon. Gentleman is correct. If we are to have a proper amphibious warfare capability, we shall need additional amphibious shipping to go with the LPH in the longer term. I know that his constituents will be delighted that the LPH order has gone to VSEL in his constituency. As for the landing platform dock replacements, I can tell him that project definition studies into the replacements for HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid are being undertaken now. The timing of an order will be subject to the successful outcome of the project definition phase and the subsequent tender process.