Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 2016.
What steps he is taking to mitigate the effect of the extended timetable for construction of Type 26 frigates on maintaining skills in the defence industry.
This Government are committed to sustaining shipbuilding skills on the Clyde. As we confirmed in the strategic defence and security review last November, we will build two additional offshore patrol vessels before build work starts on the Type 26. This will help sustain shipbuilding skills between the completion of major blocks of the Queen Elizabeth class carriers and commencement of the Type 26 build. That remains the case; the plan has not changed. Over the next decade we will spend about £8 billion on Royal Navy warships.
As my hon. Friend Brendan O'Hara pointed out, the pound is in freefall and every cent it falls against the dollar makes purchasing either the maritime patrol aircraft or the F-35 more expensive. The workers at the Clyde yards have already seen apprenticeship numbers cut by 80%, and the current crisis makes the situation worse. Can the Minister assure me and those on the shop floor in Govan and Scotstoun that the Type 26 programme will begin as soon as possible and not in 2019, as some have suggested?
We have already invested £1.6 billion in Type 26, including £472 million this March. I say to the hon. Lady as gently as I can that that commitment could not have been made if her friends had had their way and become independent, because shipbuilding would have ceased two months ago.
The Minister will remember that previous shipbuilding projects, in particular the carriers and the Type 45 destroyers, ended up being much more expensive because of delays. Does he accept that BAE Systems is ready to start cutting steel on the Type 26 programme relatively soon and that delays will cause our total number of warships to dip and the ones we eventually get to be more expensive?
I say to my right hon. Friend, who is knowledgeable about these matters, that this will be one of the largest defence programmes that this Government will enter. I am sure that he will agree that it is absolutely right to enter into a contract once we are confident of the delivery schedule and the ability of the contractors to meet that schedule on a cost-effective basis. Once we are in that position, we will be ready to contract.
The Clyde was promised a world-class frigate factory to build 13 new frigates for the UK. However, today we hear that work has been delayed by a year. Thousands of members of staff are on secondment around the country because there is not enough work in the shipyards, and the word “betrayal” rings around those shipyards because no factory has appeared and no work has started.
We have asked in the past for plans for the frigate-building programme, and for promises that all work will be carried out on the Clyde, but those questions have gone unanswered—[Interruption.]
When precisely will the Secretary of State present a committed plan to build the new frigates we need, with cast-iron timescales to bring some security to the workforce in Glasgow and around the country, and will leaving the EU affect the building—
Thank you very much. A brief response from the Minister and we will move on.
As I have already indicated, this Government have already contracted significant sums into the programme. Once we are in a position to sign a contract, we will say what the duration of the build programme will be. We are not there yet.