HL Deb 30 January 2003 vol 643 cc1286-7

3.27 p.m.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, can my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House cast any light on the fact that this House is not to take the Statement made earlier in another place about the order of the two new aircraft carriers? They are, after all, to be the two biggest ships ever built in this country. They will do a great deal for unemployment in parts of the country that badly need help in that respect. They will maintain greatly needed design skills in this country, and they will add immensely to our forces' extension projection capability to an extent that we have never seen before.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the only knowledge that I have is that the Statement would have been offered in the usual way, and it is a matter for the Opposition parties to come to their own conclusion.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the Government can of course make a Statement if they wish to do so. But also, as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said, the Opposition and the other parties are given the opportunity to insist on a Statement, should they wish to do so. Sometimes, as the House knows, we do. I entirely agree that this is an extremely important order for the reasons that the noble Lord set out. However, at the same time, it is a matter upon which we felt we should like to reflect so that we can consider the details in a way that is not possible in response to a Statement, and that thereafter your Lordships may wish to discuss the matter.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the prime contractorship for the building of these two new aircraft carriers is one of the most important procurement decisions for the Armed Forces and for employment in this country that has been taken for many, many years? Is it not strange that Members of your Lordships' House should have to read in the newspapers what Members of another place are hearing today?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, self-evidently it is an important order. I think that that is why the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said that, on behalf of his party, he wanted to reflect on it and possibly come back to it when there is more opportunity than is offered today to reflect on the background and the intricacies of such an important matter.

Lord Roper

My Lords, if I may, I should like to add that we have considered this matter very carefully. Like the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, we understand the importance of the Statement. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, however, we believe that this is a matter on which we should reflect and to which we should return when we have an opportunity to discuss it in greater detail.