HC Deb 09 December 2002 vol 396 cc8-10
5. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

If he will make a statement on the future aircraft carrier project. [83959]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

The future aircraft carrier—carrier vessel future—project is progressing well. The second stage of assessment ended on 20 November. By the end of January 2003, we plan to announce which, of BAE Systems or Thales Naval Ltd., is our preferred contractor for the programme.

Mr. Chapman

Although I of course congratulate the Government on the biggest shipbuilding programme since world war two, this project in particular has the potential for massive effects for decades to come. In selecting the prime contractor, will my hon. Friend tell me how he plans to weigh various factors, such as the effect on future warship exports, on the United Kingdom supply chain and UK subcontractors and on UK design capability and the extent of UK content and jobs?

Dr. Moonie

I suppose the short answer would be "very carefully," but my hon. Friend will want a bit more than that.

Whichever of the contractors is successful, it is clear that throughout its design and manufacture the programme will sustain and create about 10,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. There will be up to 1,000 white-collar engineering design and managerial jobs, about 2,000 to 3,000 blue-collar jobs and a significant number of jobs throughout the supply chain. At the end of the day, the decision will be made on the basis of the track record of the two companies concerned—on how successfully they have performed in the past and are performing during the initial stages of the contract.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier response, but can he give a firm assurance that the Government will be able to write into the contract of the successful contender the insistence that all the yards currently in the bids will be given parts of the work for the two carriers? Can he also assure the House that the three aircraft currently designated to fly off the ships will be in service when the ships are in the water?

Dr. Moonie

We are actually quite a long way from the ships being in the water and I am always a wee bit sceptical when Ministers stand up and make confident predictions, but it would appear from the success on both projects to date that the planes will be ready when the ships are operational.

With regard to the yards bidding, it is difficult at present to say with certainty that everybody will get a share of the work. Obviously a certain amount of competition will be involved in deciding which part goes where. Furthermore, it does not take a genius to work out that if there are only three major sections and four yards are bidding, somebody will lose out at the end of the day. I can say, however, that I believe that all yards in this country that are capable of building those large modules will have a very good chance of securing work on the carriers.

Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

Although it is MOD policy that the design and build of all Royal Navy warships will be carried out in the UK, can my hon. Friend reassure the House by guaranteeing that the through-life support, which will last for 50 years, will also be carried out in the UK?

Dr. Moonie

In short, yes.

Forward to