HL Deb 01 December 1993 vol 550 cc40-1WA
Lord Vivian

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the defence equipment programme in the light of the Chancellor's Budget Statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)

The Government will continue to ensure that the armed forces are properly equipped to carry out their tasks effectively. I am, therefore, pleased to announce decisions on a number of important equipments.

The way ahead on ordering new tanks for the Army has been decided. Having examined a range of options, we have concluded that the most cost-effective way forward would be to buy more Challenger 2 rather than upgrade Challenger 1. Accordingly, subject to the negotiation of satisfactory contractual terms, we intend to place a further order with Vickers Defence Systems for up to 259 more Challenger 2 tanks, together with the associated support and training package. As part of these negotiations, we will ask the company to quote for production bands below this quantity so that we can consider possible options for varying the order. The contractual negotiations will be conducted under the department's "No Acceptable Price No Contract"—or NAPNOC procedures—in order to secure the best value for money. We would expect to be able to place a contract next year.

A decision has also been taken on the way forward on support helicopters. The main need is for additional large helicopters with good load-carrying capacity and a rear loading ramp. Only two types can meet this medium support helicopter requirement: the Westland Group Plc EH101 utility and the Boeing Helicopters Chinook. Some large loads could only be carried by Chinook, which is a reliable and capacious aircraft, proven in RAF service, but for other tasks advantages would be offered by the operational flexibility of a mixed fleet containing the modern, sophisticated and agile EH101.

We therefore intend to enter NAPNOC negotiations with Westland and Boeing to determine the lowest prices available and other details of EH101 utility and Chinook helicopters respectively. On the basis of this information, we will decide what helicopters to buy. Value for money is the key and the prices determined through the parallel NAPNOC process will be crucial to decisions on the way forward.

Finally, the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993 stated that our plans for the Royal Navy include building up to a fleet of 25 highly capable mine countermeasures vessels of the Hunt and Sandown classes. In this context I am delighted to be able to announce that we are now in a position to invite tenders for a further batch of Sandown class single role minehunters.