England

Philip Hammond on next generation of nuclear submarines

  • 27 March 2012
  • From the section England
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HMS Vanguard
The HMS Vengeance will get a refit costing £350 million

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond's visit to Devonport Naval Base gave me the opportunity to quiz him on a range of naval matters.

He was there to announce the £350 million contract for Babcock to refit the Vanguard Class submarine, HMS Vengeance.

The contract - and the 2,000 jobs the MOD says it will secure over the next three and a half years - will, of course, be very welcome.

But Devonport, understandably, always has at least one eye on the future.

With this in mind I asked Mr Hammond about the next generation of nuclear submarines (the Vanguard Class have had their lives extended but are still on the way out), Devonport's future as a "deep maintenance" centre and whether the two new aircraft carriers will definitely be built and what kind of planes will fly from them.

Hat-doffing

You'll notice that, as our waterside chat proceeded, I was sporting a hard hat.

This was a safety precaution enjoined on me by the naval authorities rather than a voluntary attempt to cut a dash among my colleagues or in front of the camera.

Philip Hammond in Devonport
Philip Hammond's 'bareheaded cheek' in Devonport this week

Everybody else was dutifully wearing the same headgear.

Everybody that is except Mr Hammond and constituency MP Oliver Colvile, whom you can glimpse behind me during the interview and who appeared to take Mr Hammond's hat-doffing as the cue to bare his own head.

Mr Colvile later explained that he and the Secretary of State had asked - and received - specific permission from Babcock to remove their hats when they finished their tour of the submarine itself.

This, though, seems at variance with the navy's policy of issuing absolutely everybody else with hard hats even if - like me - they were merely standing on the quayside.

Here's what the Defence Secretary had to say about some of the biggest issues facing the Navy (after discarding that irksome titfer):