Defence: Type 45 Destroyers - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour 2:30 pm, 21st January 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their programme for resolving the power generation problems affecting Type 45 destroyers; what is the anticipated timetable for fixing all six ships; and what will be the total cost of this work.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

My Lords, the first Type 45 destroyer will begin receiving power improvement project upgrades in spring 2020 and will return to sea trials in 2021. Our £160 million investment in the power improvement project will provide increases in both power-generation capacity and reliability for the rest of the service life of the Type 45 destroyers. It is planned that all six Type 45 ships will have received this upgrade by the mid-2020s.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Let us be clear exactly what this means. We have six anti-air warfare ships. Eight years ago we knew they had a problem: sometimes a total lack of power would suddenly happen unexpectedly. If that happened, she had no ability whatever to defend herself, to use her weapons or missile systems. We knew how to rectify that four years ago. Three years ago I stood up in this House and said we must do this as quickly as possible, because with only six we are likely to end up fighting someone and, as I know from my experience in the Falklands, if your system does not work, you get sunk, you have lost a ship and you have dead sailors. Quick as a flash, nothing happened. We are now getting something happening this year. I believe that the reason for this is that we have insufficient ships—only six of these—so the First Sea Lord cannot shuffle them around. They need to be used, so we have been using them even though they have this problem. There is also insufficient money.

One of these ships, HMS “Defender”, is in the Gulf. Two weeks ago something could have kicked off there and, under an attack, her system could have failed. This is an appalling state of affairs. I ask the Minister to push the Secretary of State for Defence and the Government to ensure that there is sufficient funding to increase the number of ships being built, so that we have enough to shuffle around and to do the necessary repair work. Part of the problem is that the Type 23s are very old and are having to be repaired as well. That is no good whatsoever. The Prime Minister has said that a strong Navy and a Bill are important. We must push this.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I thank the noble Lord, who has made a number of points. I rebut the gloomy and pessimistic picture he paints. In fact, the Type 45 destroyers are hugely capable ships, as he knows. They have been deployed successfully on a whole range of operations worldwide. They continue to make an enormous contribution to the defence of the UK and to our international partners, and the Royal Navy continues to meet its operational commitments. As the noble Lord is well aware, the origins of the problems with the Type 45s actually go way back to the early 2000s, when apparently there was a dilemma about which type of engine to choose and a new type was chosen rather than a type with a proven track record. All that is history. The point is that the Government have systematically analysed the problem from 2011 onwards under the Napier project and have provided money for the improvement work. That work will now go ahead, and these destroyers will be returned to full operating capacity.

On the noble Lord’s broader point, I point out that the Royal Navy has attracted significant investment. Not only will our fleet grow for the first time since World War II; its high-end technological capabilities will allow it to make a better contribution and to retain a first-class Navy up to 2040 and beyond. That is something we should be very proud of.

Photo of Lord Boyce Lord Boyce Crossbench

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord West, implied and as we have heard in this House on numerous occasions, the number of our destroyers and frigates is anorexic. This is exacerbated by the Type 45 problem. We embarked on an eight-ship, Type 26 frigate-building programme in 2017, but the first ship, “Glasgow”, will not be commissioned until 2027. Thereafter, a ship will appear every two years. Does the Minister agree that a 10-year build programme for a frigate—it took only nine years to build our carrier—and of some 24 years for all eight ships is completely unacceptable? This is a black mark against the Government and our shipbuilding industry.

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I am afraid I do not agree with the noble and gallant Lord. I refer him to the national ship- building strategy, which made some pivotal recommendations upon which the Government have been acting. For example, the state-of-the-art, new Type 31 frigates will all be ready by 2028. This is an exciting development. Three of the Type 26 frigates are already being built on the Clyde. That is a huge addition to the frigate programme. As I pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord West, the Navy is expanding for the first time since World War II.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, has my noble friend noticed that the United States Navy is planning to build a whole generation of unmanned drone technology-type frigates and destroyers to police the Atlantic, as well as unmanned drone-driven submarines? In the light of this new technology, which is coming along very fast, will any of our ships of the kind we are now discussing still be in date?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

The answer is yes. The innovation of unmanned equipment is important. My noble friend will be aware that we deploy both unarmed and armed aerial equipment, and these operate according to very strict protocols. As to the evolving face of defence and the tasks which lie ahead, we shall always be imaginative and responsive to what we see as the challenges. We shall do everything we can to respond to these challenges and to defend the interests of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, the Minister talked about the Type 31 coming on stream in 2028 as an exciting development, but the defence of the realm matters not in 2028 but in 2020. Can she tell us how many of the Type 45s are operational at present? Do we have sufficient ships to defend our aircraft carrier? Is she satisfied that the number of ships planned will meet British needs, particularly if Mr Dominic Cummings is involved in the next security and defence review?

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Can the Minister tell us if Rolls-Royce is responsible for paying for the cost of these repairs?

Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

All these problems are of long standing, and the noble Lord is correct about that. In fact, there is a mixture of circumstances. First, the period within which the contractor might have had a responsibility has long since elapsed. Secondly, decisions taken in the early stages by the MoD partly account for the difficulties we have experienced, so it is not the responsibility of the original contractor.