asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on progress in the refitting of the Natural Environmental Research Council's vessel, "Frederick Russell ".
The work is on schedule and is expected to be completed during the first quarter of next year.
Does the Minister realise that many people regard as indefensible the decision to have this British Government-owned vessel refitted in a Belgium yard, where there is a subsidy of 80 per cent. on the money borrowed at a 1 per cent. rate of interest and a two-year moratorium on payment? Is he aware that it is felt that the work should have been undertaken in a British yard?
I can understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, and perhaps that in his own constituency, that the work was lost. The refit of this 339-ton vessel will take place under a contract placed by the National Environmental Research Council. The council has a Royal charter. It is grant-aided by my Department. It is totally autonomous when it places a contract. Some of the figures and statistics quoted by the hon. Gentleman are not wholly accurate. I think that he is aware of the correspondence that has emanated from my Department. The hon. Gentleman has expressed his anxiety, but he must understand that value for money for the council is of prime importance.