HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc5-6
3. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

If he will make a statement on the replacement of the Royal Navy's carriers. [58672]

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

The CVF—carrier vessel (future)—project is progressing well and we remain fully committed to it as part of our extensive programme of new naval shipbuilding. It remains our plan to replace the existing Invincible class carriers with two new, larger and much more capable carriers that will enter service in 2012 and 2015 respectively. Risk reduction and design work on CVF is well advanced. Early next year, we expect to be in a position to select a preferred prime contractor from the two consortiums currently competing, and to approve investment for the build programme at the end of 2003.

Chris Grayling

Does the Minister plan to sell the current HMS Invincible—perhaps to India—to help pay the bill, and if so. when?

Dr. Moonie

Under current plans, Invincible will remain in service until at least 2010. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no discussions have taken place with anybody about the sale of any of our carriers.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the bid by BAE Marine Systems to build the new carriers on the Clyde and, in particular, the envisaged use of Inch Green dry dock in Greenock? He will be aware that that is one of the most advanced dry docks and deep-water births in Europe and that it pioneered the welding together of mass hulls of ships in the early 1970s, with oil tankers. So may I tell him that, at Greenock, we have a readily available work force, the facilities and the experience, and all we need now are the orders?

Dr. Moonie

My hon. Friend will know that I am well aware of the quality of shipbuilding available on the Clyde, particularly in his constituency. It is however still too early in the programme for us to assess the full impact that CVF will have on shipbuilding jobs; what I can say, of course, is that it remains a tremendous opportunity for shipyards throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

The House will be very glad to hear the Minister's reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) that he has no plans to sell. HMS Invincible to the Indians, or indeed to anyone else, but I am just a shade puzzled by an article in The Sunday Times, dated 2 June. Under the headline "Aircraft carrier on sale to India", it went on to tell us that the aircraft carrier, along with naval Sea Harrier jets to fly from it, is top of Delhi's…shopping list… MoD officials have discussed with their Indian counterparts the possibility of selling the ship, which would help to pay for Britain's two new replacement 'super-carriers'. That might just be a bit of froth were it not for the fact that it was written by none other than James Clark, the paper's defence correspondent, who, a few weeks previously, had been appointed as the new spin doctor in the Ministry of Defence. Will the Minister now care to tell the House whether or not he is correct in saying that he has no plans to sell Invincible, or whether his spin doctor is correct in saying that the Government do?

Dr. Moonie

I have already set out the Government's position very clearly, and I am not used to having my word questioned in the House. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman, to try to lighten the blow, is that I am often puzzled by some of the stories that appear in The Sunday Times.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Minister will be aware of the quality of the work force at the Clyde submarine base and the need to ensure the capacity of that base continues. Given that considerable changes have been taking place in the past few months and that the work force need to look forward to stability in the base's capacity, will he tell us how the contract for Astute class submarines will be awarded?

Dr. Moonie

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's interest in such issues, but I am unable at present to give him any further enlightenment on the basing of the Astute class submarines.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

What will the replacement carriers be carrying?

Dr. Moonie

Oddly enough, things that fly. The primary aircraft will be the future joint combat aircraft. The Lockheed Martin joint strike fighter has been identified as the aircraft with the best potential to fill that role. The ships will also carry maritime airborne surveillance and control aircraft and helicopters from all three services in a variety of roles.

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