HL Deb 10 October 1986 vol 480 cc473-4

11.18 a.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in finding a chairman for the inquiry which they intend to set up into warship design following the report by Lord Hill-Norton, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal and others.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, I announced on 11 th July, with regret, that Professor Caldwell had decided to resign as chairman of an independent inquiry. Discussions are proceeding on the appointment of a successor and I hope to be able to announce the outcome very shortly.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is this not already a disquietingly long delay between July and October on what cannot be the most difficult question in the world? May I repeat in this House the suggestion, which I have made privately to the noble Lord, that if it is difficult (as I can well understand it may be) to find a naval architect or hydrodynamic engineer who is not already committed to one side or the other in this discussion, it might be a good plan to get an aerodynamic expert in, given the large degree of overlap in the behaviour of air and water, which is what is at stake in this matter?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I shall certainly note the noble Lord's views, which, as he says, he has already conveyed to me. As for the time taken to find a successor to Professor Caldwell, the fact of the matter is that after Professor Caldwell decided to resign there was no rush of volunteers to replace him.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, would the Minister accept that, while it is regrettable that more than three months have now gone by since the Prime Minister's and his own announcements of this inquiry, nevertheless the fact that it is to take place is a very welcome one? Does he recall that when he announced the appointment of the chairman on 25th June when we had our defence estimates debate, he also said that Professor Caldwell was now assembling a small team of independent experts to help him? Can he say whether that small team is now in place and, if so, who is on it?

Lord Trefgarne

No, my Lords. We anticipate that the new chairman will want to choose a team of his own.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister tell us whether this delay is having any effect on the naval shipbuilding programme?

Lord Trefgarne

No, my Lords.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the noble Lord seriously bear in mind the desirability of at least, getting this inquiry set up and working before the litigation which is expected in the new year commences?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I of course cannot give a positive assurance of that kind. I would only observe that I understand that the Speaker has ruled in the other place that the question of the litigation is now sub judice.