Fleet Solid Support Ships

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons on 8th July 2019.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

When her Department plans to make an announcement on the award of the contract for the fleet solid support ships.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

When her Department plans to make an announcement on the award of the contract for the fleet solid support ships.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

Subject to normal approvals, we anticipate that a design and build contract will be awarded in 2020.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

This has been a shambolic process in which overseas bidders have dropped out and the Government have begged them to rejoin the bidding process. Have Ministers not read the report by Mr Dunne on the importance of defence spending to the UK economy? Is it not about time that the Government stopped this whole process and started offering the bids to UK-based shipyards, so that we can get the benefits of this major Government contract?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we do have a team UK bid in there, and I am pleased to see that. As I have said on many occasions, we are trying to ensure that we get the very best price for all the capability we need. If we were to cancel this competition now, we would put at risk the services that we need for the carrier. That being said, we have been listening to all the debates and the many questions on this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union stating that the option to support onshore defence funding for shipbuilding should be a red line in our future relationship with the EU. Of course, that will apply only to future programmes.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Other countries such as France and Italy classify these vessels as warships, meaning that they have to be built in domestic yards. Why will the Minister not just guarantee that a UK contractor will be the successful bidder and give a much-needed boost to UK industry?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

As I have said, the EU has raised questions about the classification of some of those countries and the decisions that they have made. Also, some of those vessels are manned by those countries’ navies, whereas ours will be manned by the auxiliaries.

Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence)

All of us on the Opposition Benches were heartened to hear the Defence Secretary say recently of the Ministry of Defence that

“we can and we must buy British”.

That would represent a welcome shift from her predecessor’s tendency to simply buy off the shelf from abroad, but the British shipbuilding industry needs action, not just warm words. So will the Minister now reconsider the Government’s short-sighted decision to put these ships out to international tender, and build them here instead?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence

As I have just announced, my right hon. Friend has made that policy decision. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that we have significant orders in UK shipyards. There is 20 years of work on the Clyde, for example. I cannot think of any other industry in the UK that can say that it has 20 years of work on its order books.