CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE – NAMING OF SHIPS – 22 June 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: Will the Leader of the House try to persuade a defence procurement Minister to come to the House and make a statement about the unusual controversy in the Ministry of Defence over the naming of the next two Royal Navy survey vessels? They were to be named HMS Shackleton and HMS Cook. There is no problem with HMS Shackleton, but I understand that the name of the other vessel has met resistance in the Ministry of Defence.

If the right hon. Lady cannot do that, can she persuade a Foreign Office Minister to come to the House and explain why, when I tabled a written question on 13 April to ask whether Lord Levy had had contact with foreign intelligence and security agencies, it took until 7 June to get a one-line reply? It read:

"In line with long standing practice of successive Governments we do not comment on intelligence matters." – [Official Report, 7 June 2000; Vol. 351, c. 291W.]

Would she not agree that, if that was the right answer, it should have been given me two days after I posted the question, not two months?

[Mrs Beckett: I know nothing about the naming of ships commissioned for the Royal Navy. However, I do know that the contract that has been placed will sustain 800 jobs in Devon. That seems much more important than what the ships are called, although I have no doubt that that will be a matter of concern to someone.

Secondly, of course I regret that the hon. Gentleman did not get an answer to his question sooner. We continually remind colleagues of the importance of responding more speedily, but I fear that, as the answer revealed, there is nothing further that I can add on security and intelligence matters.]