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Aircraft Carrier Programme

Volume 540: debated on Monday 20 February 2012

The overall cost of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier programme is continually informed by the conversion development phase, which is developing a much greater understanding of the costs and risks involved. We will publish the findings as soon as we can and will keep the House informed in the usual manner.

May I press the Minister to say what will be the total project cost after converting the carriers for the carrier variant aircraft? If he cannot tell us—and it does not look as though he can—does he recognise that that is a worrying, unfunded liability?

I am afraid that I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, because we simply do not know the answer. In answer to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck), I talked about the possible price implications for the joint strike fighter as a result of the Americans’ decisions in rescheduling their profile. Similarly, we are still doing the work on the precise cost of the conversion. We will report to the House in the usual way. That will be part of the major projects report, so all the normal processes will be followed. I understand the importance of the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Whatever the cost of the carriers, is not a key argument in their favour that if—God forbid—the Falklands were, despite all our preparations, taken in a surprise attack, it would be essential to have a carrier to regain them? Does not that prompt the question of why we do not have one at the moment?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I am aware of the arguments about, for example, the use of carriers off Libya. However, I think that the correct decisions were taken in the strategic defence and security review regarding the Tornado aircraft, which enabled us to fight that war very effectively. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said: the Falklands are well protected; we live in a different world; and the suggestion that aircraft carriers play an important part in the Falkland Islands in the near future is unhelpful at this stage.