Bob Ainsworth Questions the Defence Secretary on Carrrier Strike Capability

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Secretary of State has taken, and is announcing, the right decision today, and I understand how difficult it is to perform that kind of U-turn and how uncomfortable it must be. But I cannot go along with him on the excuse—the reason—that both he and the Prime Minister decided to give for that decision. That is that the facts have changed and therefore we are changing the decision.

I reviewed this decision, taken by my predecessors. The fundamental facts were there at the time and have not changed. We have been up an extremely expensive cul-de-sac for the last 18 months as a result of a shambles of an SDSR, and I can only congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing some sanity to it; but he ought to understand the problem that he will give himself in sorting out procurement work—which, yes, is problematic and was in our time—if he cannot find a way of being straight about why the decision is being taken and the fact that the previous decision was taken in the face of clear advice to the contrary.

Mr Hammond: I refute that last comment absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman is in a better position than many in the House to understand the complexities and the challenges of defence procurement, but to say that the facts have not changed is simply wrong. The risk profile of the STOVL aircraft is dramatically different now from what it was in 2010, when there was a very real risk that the variant would be cancelled. The cost estimates for fitting the EMAL system, and the understanding of the complexity of that task, have matured through the work that we have done since the SDSR. Although I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s endorsement of the substantive decision, he is simply wrong when he says the facts have not changed.

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