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Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the measured welcome that he has given to the proposals. Like him, I am delighted that they will secure the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde for the next 10 years. As I said in response to an earlier question, the key to the future of that yard does not lie with orders from the Ministry of Defence. Notwithstanding an order book of some 30 warships, we simply do not have enough work to keep all Britain's shipyards going over a long period.

It is crucial that shipyards can compete effectively for the hundreds, if not thousands, of orders that are placed every year around the world. What the Ministry of Defence and the Government can do is ensure that Britain's shipyards have an appropriate platform and a programme of stability. My hon. Friend has worked assiduously on behalf of his constituents to ensure that they have a future in shipbuilding, and in the conversations that I have had with him over several months, we have recognised the importance of securing the platform and programme of stability that will allow the yard in his constituency and other yards in the United Kingdom to win work from Europe and the rest of the world. I am confident that the arrangement that I have announced will allow that to happen.

On ALSLs, I gave the House the expectation, not a guarantee, that work could begin at about this time of the year. I am sorry that negotiations between the two

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companies have not allowed that to happen, but we continue to urge them to commence the cutting of steel as soon as possible.

David Burnside (South Antrim): I, too, thank the Secretary of State for today's statement, and I congratulate one part of the great shipbuilding world—the Clyde—on the securing of jobs for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Will the Secretary of State outline what co-operation and collaboration will take place with the two great parts of the defence industry in Belfast—Harland and Wolff and Shorts—that might lead to joint ventures in relation to these orders or the two future aircraft carrier orders that he might foresee?

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome of the statement. As part of the overall defence programme, there will certainly be opportunities for both companies in Northern Ireland to participate in the very considerable order book that is available. I cannot give him specific details at this stage, but I am confident that work is there for Northern Ireland. It is a question that we have addressed in the past. This occasion, however, is not a matter for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and warmly welcome the fresh work for Govan shipyard. I am pleased that the Government have awarded the lion's share of the new type 45 orders to the Clyde. It shows that they have confidence in the skilled work force at Govan and Scotstoun. Although the orders secure future shipbuilding on the Clyde, I am disappointed that the current gap in orders could not be filled. Workers in Govan and Scotstoun shipyards have suffered a great deal in the past two years and the threat of redundancy still hangs over their heads.

I understand that the Secretary of State did not guarantee that ALSL work would start in Govan and Scotstoun shipyards in the summer, but that the Ministry of Defence had thought that it would. The delay means that the work force in Govan shipyard and other people in my constituency will suffer. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to put pressure on Swan Hunter to expedite the work so that the number of redundancies in the shipyard is reduced?

Mr. Hoon: I have already made it clear that that is the Government's intention.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Will the Secretary of State confirm that Vosper Thornycroft thinks that the arrangement is much better than the original procurement agreement? In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), he said that there would be co-operation on the design. Can he guarantee that Vosper Thornycroft will be involved in all design stages? Does he think that the Government will find themselves trying to get better value from best value, which is what happens in local government?

Mr. Hoon: I shall stick to my responsibilities for Defence, and not stray into local government matters. Although I have not had an opportunity to read Vosper

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Thornycroft's statement in detail, I am aware that it welcomes the decision. Obviously, it has been negotiating hard on an entirely commercial basis with BAE Systems on the allocation of work. If we did not take commercial decisions, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to criticise. Vosper's has been heavily engaged in design work and I see no reason why that should not continue. However, that will ultimately be a matter for Vosper's. The Government will make no decision either to prevent that or to require the company to participate if it judges it inappropriate. The co-operation of the two companies on the design work has been remarkably successful and I have every expectation that it will continue.

Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): We welcome the contract for the type 45 destroyer. I am glad that the Secretary of State took that decision, because the shipbuilding industry cannot be left on a tightrope. He has given us time to get the investment necessary for a long-term strategy. I do not speak as a parochialist; unemployment on the shores of the Thames is the same as unemployment on the shores of the Clyde. I thank him for the investment and hope that many more contracts will come our way.

Mr. Hoon: Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend, especially for his appreciation of the opportunities that the announcement affords the Clyde, and of the need for it to respond to challenges from around the world. The platform for stability that we are providing will allow our shipyards to compete effectively with overseas shipyards to win more work for the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Secretary of State has confirmed that the first of class is unlikely to be in service with the fleet until 2007. How does he intend to maintain an effective area air defence capability for the Royal Navy in the interim? Was not the modernisation of Sea Dart cancelled because the new vessel was envisaged as being in service much earlier? Will the Secretary of State initiate a programme of Sea Dart enhancement for the type 42s? Why did he give no figures in his statement? Are not the Government supposed to believe in open government? Is the taxpayer not entitled to know what the overall cost of the programme is, and at least, what the unit cost per vessel will be?

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with any of the answers that I am about to give, I will write to him with any greater detail that is allowed in accordance with commercial confidentiality.

The programme of warship building and significant investment in Britain's armed forces was made necessary by years of cuts under the Conservative Government. If there is any gap in area defence, it is entirely the responsibility of the hon. Gentleman and the Government whom he generally supported to try to explain why, over a long period, the defence budget, instead of being increased as it is now, was cut year after year.

Angus Robertson (Moray): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, may I welcome the references in the statement to the 1,200 jobs that have been secured on the Clyde? How many jobs

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does the Secretary of State expect to be lost in the short term? Will he guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies on the Clyde?

Mr. Hoon: Obviously, jobs are a matter for the companies concerned. This announcement will not cost any jobs, and my responsibility on behalf of the Government is to make the announcement. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the Government's defence plans. I hope that it indicates that from now on, instead of running down Britain's defence, the Scottish nationalists will support the Government's efforts.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): On this occasion, I speak for both Portsmouth MPs when I say that we welcome the proposal, as do the majority of people in Portsmouth.

The Secretary of State talked about flexibility in the defence of the ships and the platforms themselves. Will the Government consider whether, at this late stage in the design, Merlin is still a capability that ought to be put on the type 45? If the ship is to be with us for 20 years from 2007, the use of Merlin will be critical.

If the Secretary of State believes that the future of shipbuilding in this country will be heavily dependent on what we can achieve in bringing contracts from abroad, will he open the doors of Portsmouth naval base as wide as possible to enable and encourage Vosper's to bring contracts to the city and begin shipbuilding there for the first time in 30 years?

Does the Secretary of State agree that the predatory unsolicited bid by BAE Systems, and the way in which it was made, were in no way in keeping with the substantial retention of British shipbuilding that he was trying to achieve, or in the best interests of the defence of this country?

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