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Aircraft Carrier Cover

Volume 546: debated on Monday 11 June 2012

The strategic defence and security review confirmed the Government’s intention to re-introduce a carrier strike capability from around 2020. This capability will be delivered by the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, operating the STOVL— short take-off and vertical landing—variant of the joint strike fighter. Until then, the Government have accepted that expeditionary air power will need to be deployed by other means, which may include agreements with allies regarding overflight and basing rights. In addition, the Government are considering the scope for us to co-ordinate carrier strike operations with those NATO allies that currently operate aircraft carriers, including the United States, France and Italy, both prior to and following the re-introduction of the United Kingdom’s own capability.

Our future aircraft carriers are being built by our Scottish allies. What happens to the construction of those carriers if Scotland declares independence and does not contribute to the cost?

As a good Unionist, I must emphasise that the carriers are being built by the United Kingdom, and that many English yards, as well as Scottish yards, are making a fine contribution to these outstanding ships. The best thing that I can say to my hon. Friend is that it is two thirds of a century since the United Kingdom built a warship outside the UK—that happened during the second world war—so the facts speak for themselves.

The Telegraph conservatively says that it is £250 million, but can the Minister say how much the bad decision to proceed with the F-35C cost? Surely this should include the costs of carrier conversion, too.

I can confirm what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on many occasions: as of the end of April, we had committed £39 million on conversion studies and a further £1 million on an air-to-air refuelling study. We do not think that the money has been wasted. Changing the variant was considered the best course of action under the SDSR, and these costs were necessarily incurred.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that it is our intention to build the two carriers so that both are able to operate fixed-wing aircraft and that we will purchase enough fixed-wing aircraft to operate from both of those carriers?

I can confirm that both carriers will be built; it will be a decision in the next SDSR as to whether or not both are operated. Similarly, we are following an incremental acquisition policy on the joint strike fighter itself. Therefore, I cannot give my hon. Friend the comfort he is seeking at this stage, as this relates to a commercial negotiation and a strategic decision for the next SDSR.