Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 7th February 2005.

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Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

There are 22 frigates and destroyers available for tasking by the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Parliamentary Private Secretaries To Leader of the Opposition

What on earth has happened to all the rest? The Chief of the Naval Staff said that instinctively he did not welcome the early disposal of good ships. What could he possibly have meant? For the record, which frigates and destroyers will be decommissioned this year?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

As has been said before at the Dispatch Box, it is the role of the commander-in-chief of each service to argue their case for more resources, and we seek to assist them in that. As in previous years and decades, the available resources must be properly apportioned among the three services. The hon. Gentleman asked which vessels have been withdrawn. Norfolk will be decommissioned in March 2005; Marlborough, in June 2005; and Grafton in March 2006—I accept that that is not this year. Of the Type 42s, Glasgow was withdrawn in January 2005, and the same is true of Newcastle. Cardiff will go in August 2005.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Will the Minister confirm that in the strategic defence review the Government endorsed the idea of a strong Navy and promised new aircraft carriers? However, while they were ready to resort to arms and commit our forces, they have ordered very few new ships. The new carriers have, in a magnificent typically new Labour gesture, been named but not ordered, although we hope to hear something about that later today. The Navy will get eight, instead of 12, Type 45s as well as a reduced number of submarines, and the MOD has quietly cancelled the future surface combatant project. With a smaller and ageing fleet, how will the Navy eventually deliver the tasks that Ministers lay upon them, and what will the Government's apparently low priority for the Navy do for its effectiveness as a service?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1986 we had 54 frigates and destroyers, but there was a substantial reduction to 35 in 1994. The hon. Gentleman was in government for some of those years, and if he has any advice about the way in which we handle the restructuring of the Navy to ensure that we continue to make it as powerful and effective as it has been in the past, perhaps he will write to me. Interestingly, he listed the range of ships that we have on order. It was quite a significant list, consisting of 10 ships in total, and is the biggest warship construction programme since the second world war. That should be rejoiced at, not knocked.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Is not there bogus outrage among Opposition Members, given that in government their party reduced the number of submarines from 18 to 10, the number of frigates from 22 to 19, and naval personnel from 55,000 to 45,000? How would further cuts on top of the £2 billion already planned impact on the size of the fleet?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend makes his point in his own way. I gave other statistics and other information about the reduction of the fleet over the years. An important aspect of the fleet size is that it has all the component parts that give it its powerful effect. None of the ships listed by Mr. Soames, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, is undesirable or unwanted. They will significantly increase capacity. My hon. Friend David Taylor has highlighted the paucity of thought on the part of the Conservatives.