I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the National Shipbuilding Strategy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I stand before you with the sense that we have been here before, and indeed we have. It is déjà vu on a grand scale, because at Defence questions, during Westminster Hall debates, in answers to urgent questions and in ministerial statements, the Government have had the chance to put at rest the minds of the various parties interested in the shipbuilding strategy. Yet again, we find ourselves hoping that the Minister will give us something more than the usual scorn that is reserved for SNP Members.
Any time I tire of waiting for answers, I simply remind myself that many people have been waiting much longer, whether they be the men and women who serve us in the Royal Navy or those in the yards on the Clyde and at Rosyth. That is not to mention the average taxpayer, who demands nothing more from the Government than that their money is well spent on equipment that actually works and the assurance that the Government are doing their utmost to fulfil their most basic duty—defending our homeland.
In 2021, it will be two decades since HMS St Albans slipped from Yarrows on the Clyde and became the last-of-class Type 23 frigate, meaning that the state that has always prided itself on being a maritime power will not have built a single frigate for the best part of 20 years. Furthermore, as the first-of-class Type 23, HMS Norfolk, left that same shipyard in 1990, it found that the mission for which it had been specifically designed had all but ended. It is quite incredible that in 2017, we are still unable to see a signed contract to begin the replacement of the Type 23s, which are a cold war platform. No one I have spoken to through my work on the Select Committee on Defence, whether fellow members, academics, shipbuilders, trade unionists or even civil servants, sees that as an acceptable way forward, yet here we are.
Its cold war mission may have ended, but the Type 23 has certainly done all that was asked of it, and more. Let us not forget that the range of tasks the Royal Navy has undertaken in the post-cold war era has dramatically increased, yet paradoxically, as the senior service’s task list is increasing, the number of frigates and destroyers available to it has sunk to an historic low. It is that paradox that I hope the Minister will help me with today. The Ministry of Defence has long been able to exploit the convoluted and confusing history of the Type 26s and Type 31s to hide from its failings. I will make it easy for the Government by posing three straightforward questions that I hope they will take in good faith and respond to appropriately.
First, and most simply, when will we see the national shipbuilding strategy? Secondly, the MOD has made much of 2017 being the year of the Navy, but 2023 is a much more appropriate choice, as that is when the MOD completes the purchase of 24 F-35B planes to fly from the carriers, and when HMS Queen Elizabeth becomes fully operational. Will the Minister reassure us that the Royal Navy will be able to form a fully functioning carrier group with Type 26s, Type 45s and the requisite Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service ships? Thirdly, on a related note, various media outlets have reported in recent days on the bandwidth problems in the procurement budget, which were highlighted in a National Audit Office report. So far as the equipment plan is concerned, how will the shipbuilding strategy ensure that surface naval ships are prioritised in procurement decisions?
When the Government committed to the national shipbuilding strategy as part of the 2015 strategic defence and security review, many of us thought we were reaching the end of a long journey, with respect to the modernisation of the Royal Navy. How wrong we were. Early studies of what in 1994 was called the “future surface combatant” certainly thought outside the box. A whole range of options were considered, including a radical trimaran hull design. After a decade, the FSC had become the “sustained surface combatant capability”, which had as many as three designs. It was not a concept that would survive the financial crash. Indeed, by 2009, it was possible for my friend, Dr Lewis, who chairs the Defence Committee, to call for a future surface combatant that was as “cheap as chips”. How did we get from as “cheap as chips” to building £1-billion frigates in less than a decade?
I contend that the blame lies squarely at the door of the MOD. One thing has become clear from the numerous conversations I have had with both management and unions at BAE Systems: it is a global company with a world-class workforce that is able to turn its hand to whatever design and specification is provided by the MOD. Up to this point, it has done that. Quite simply, the MOD’s unerring ability to change horses midstream has added to the cost, timescales and uncertainty of the ongoing naval procurement programme.
That continued after the shipbuilding strategy announcement in 2015. The initial reassurances we were given were replaced with disquiet last spring, when no contract for the Type 26s was signed. When The Guardian broke the story in April about potential job losses at the Clyde yards, there was a crushing realisation that, yes, it had happened again. Any hope that a refreshed team in the main building over the summer would lead to clarity on the Type 26 or the shipbuilding strategy did not last long. When the Minister repeatedly assured us in the Chamber that we would see a strategy by the autumn statement, we knew she was using alternative facts. When my colleagues and I on the Defence Committee released a report that concluded
“it is now time for the MoD to deliver on its promises”,
I imagine we already knew that it had no intention of doing so—although I am interested to know if that report played any part in delaying the strategy, or if Ministers simply chose not to tell Parliament of their intentions.
It was not entirely clear, when Sir John Parker’s independent report was announced, whether informing Parliament was part of the original strategy. When the report was finalised, we thought that it would be the formal strategy going forward. There is plenty to agree with in Sir John’s report. Many of its findings chime with my experiences of MOD procurement, namely that there was a
“vicious cycle of fewer and much more expensive ships being ordered late and entering service years later than first planned”,
“The Government must drive cultural and governance changes in Defence that inject genuine pace into the procurement process with a clear grip over requirements, cost and time.”
However, we are now getting to a stage at which the report, far from being too little, too late, is too much, much too late. It will once more allow Ministers to take us around the houses and hope that we forget that they are running out of time to fulfil previous promises made to the House, the Royal Navy and the men and women on the Clyde.
While there is
there appears to be no real alternative to the Clyde, as I am sure we will hear from my hon. Friend Chris Stephens. Let us get on with signing the Type 26 contract and ensure that the Type 31 is ready to go as soon as possible.
Can the hon. Gentleman shed any light on what the Type 31 is? There have been generalised views of what it will do and what it will be, but I understand that there are no plans and no actual specification. Is the Type 31 not one of those pipedreams that seems to be put out there to reassure the industry, when actually there is a lot of work to be done not only to design it, but to find out where it fits into the broader naval strategy?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are constantly told that the Type 31s are also for the export market. I have asked parliamentary questions on whether the Government could provide details of their homework on what that export market might look like. I am afraid that, to date, there are no answers. We need to make progress with the information we have, which is why we are questioning the Minister today.
Anyone who has taken an interest in this matter will know that BAE Systems has two possible designs. It is important that we get on with picking one, so that we can ensure—to follow up on the hon. Gentleman’s point —that we have an exportable product that we can take to market. However, we are falling behind. The Franco-Italian Aquitaine class frigates are already in service with La Royale and have been exported to Egypt and Morocco, so we are already missing the export boat with regard to the Type 31s.
My hon. Friend should also note the Danish Absalon class frigates, which have proved to be very versatile, reliable and affordable ships for a valuable ally’s navy.
Of course. That just makes the point that while the Government sit back, dither and try to work out what the strategy might be, we have great examples of other countries—small countries—that are able to export their own products into the markets that they want to serve.
Quite simply, we have been waiting for the future surface combatant, be it the Type 26 or the Type 31, since 1994. Sir John’s report may seek a “sea change” in naval procurement, but the fact is that we had a defence industry strategy in 2005, a 15-year terms of business agreement signed by BAE Systems in 2009 and a consolidated shipbuilding plan for the Clyde, with support from the Government and the trade unions, in 2013. How on earth has it taken the Government so long to get to a strategy? Why do they still not have one by 2017? Surely that is a damning indictment of their competence to run the country. Again, I plead with the Minister: let us get on with it.
My second question for the Minister is about ensuring that when HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service, it will do so with a carrier group worthy of a next-generation Navy. Those carriers—the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy—are being built on time and on budget in my constituency by the superb workforce in Rosyth. It would be a great disappointment to those workers, those men and women—
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on a very important issue. He mentions the aircraft carriers. Let me respectfully advise the Minister that shipbuilding and ship repairs are still very much alive on the Tyne and that my local yard, A&P Tyne, has played a key role in getting those ships on time, within budget and with excellent quality. In the light of John Parker’s report, which identified that commercial yards have a great role to play in supporting traditional naval yards in providing the MOD’s requirements, I ask the Minister to ensure that when any lucrative contracts come forward in the future, commercial yards such as A&P are taken into consideration, bearing in mind their record.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. That is a bit of a non-question for me, but I am sure the Minister will be happy to add it to her extensive list of questions already put.
The ships in Rosyth are the biggest that the Royal Navy has ever built, and various people have been involved in building them from day one and bringing the parts from all areas of the UK to Rosyth, but we must ensure that when those ships sail down the Forth, they are adequately protected. At the moment, I struggle to see how that battle group will fit together.
As I said, although 2017 may be the year of the Navy, 2023 will be far more significant, because in 2023 we will know whether the strategy has done what it set out to do in the first place. By 2023, the initial tranche of 24 F-35Bs should be in place to fly operations from the carriers, and the first Type 26 should be entering service to replace HMS Argyll, which will be the first Type 23 to leave service.
The Defence Committee highlighted the question of the carrier group in our November report and I hope we will press the Minister further on it, but quite simply the Government are running out of time to uphold their end of the bargain. Quite honestly, I am not holding my breath.
I expect many right hon. and hon. Members will talk today about the state of the Navy, but going over some of the history again might be worthwhile. At the time of the infamous Nott report, the Royal Navy had 60 frigates and destroyers, and even by the end of the Falklands conflict, it still had 50. In the 1998 strategic defence review, long after the cold war had ended, a floor of 32 ships was constructed. However, the Government now crow about their commitment to 19 frigates and destroyers.
Even as we move to an era of fewer and more powerful ships, 19 is still too low a number and has seen the UK fail in many of its commitments to its allies. I am not alone in finding it unacceptable that the UK has often been unable to provide a ship for NATO’s standing maritime groups; that we had to miss the recent anniversary celebrations of the New Zealand navy because a suitable ship was not available; and that offshore patrol vessels are having to fill in on tasks relating to the fleet ready escort and the Royal Navy’s presence in the Caribbean.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the 75th-anniversary celebrations for the royal navy of New Zealand. In November, our allies the United States, Canada and Australia sent ships to the international naval review—even Tonga and the Cook Islands sent ships to the naval review—but the United Kingdom Navy sent nothing. That is not exactly the best start to a brave Brexit diplomatic offensive, is it?
Again, I cannot help but agree with my hon. Friend. He makes a very valid and good point, but if our backs were to the wall and we needed to provide ships for NATO, that would be a much more serious commitment that the UK would have to make. If we do not have enough ships to fulfil those commitments, that is even more concerning.
I hope that the Minister will break the habit of a lifetime today and actually give us the answers to the questions that we have asked. Quite simply, the Royal Navy and the carrier programme demand that. It starts with a contract for the Type 26 programme being signed, so let me reintroduce an old slogan: “We want eight and we won’t wait!” If we were to add anything to that, it would be that we cannot afford to wait any longer.
I hope that the Minister can also answer my last question. How can we ensure that surface shipbuilding does not suffer as a result of the proliferation of big-ticket items going through the order book over the next decade? The headline from Monday’s Financial Times says it all: “Spiralling cost of UK defence projects signals hard choices”. I raised this issue at the most recent Defence questions. With the years 2020 to 2023 being the most critical in the equipment procurement plan, I fear what Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute highlighted in the FT article:
“the historic response at MoD has simply been to push programmes to the right and allow service dates to slip.”
That story followed last month’s excellent National Audit Office report, which highlighted, among other things, that the “headroom” used to account for any potential overspend had already been spent. The report stated that
“any further capability requirements during the lifetime of the Plan period will have to be met through a reprioritisation”.
I know that all those situations put the Minister in a really difficult position, but the clear questions that I must ask again are these. When will we see the national shipbuilding strategy? Can the Minister assure us that, by 2023, the Royal Navy will be able to form a fully functioning carrier group, with Type 26s, Type 45s and the requisite Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships? Finally, how will the shipbuilding strategy ensure that surface naval ships are prioritised in future procurement decisions? Let us hope that today we get some answers and that 2017 does become the year of the Navy, not the year that the Navy wants to forget.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate Douglas Chapman on securing this very important debate. He raises some very interesting points. Certainly I have been trying to get answers to them through parliamentary questions, but we are getting the usual stonewalling from the Ministry of Defence, which has become a habit in recent times.
The important thing is to ask this question: what is the status of Sir John Parker’s report? It was announced in the 2016 Budget, which stated:
“The government has appointed Sir John Parker to lead the national ship building strategy, which was confirmed in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015.”
It also stated that the report would be published in the autumn of 2016, which in MOD-speak means anytime between December and the following June. The press release stated that it was a Treasury-led, not a MOD-led review. That is important. It was announced by Mr Osborne when he visited Portsmouth naval base.
The report was published, strangely, not as a Government report but as Sir John Parker’s own report. The jungle drums in the MOD tell me that there was a bit of concern about whether the Secretary of State would put his name to this report, and he decided not to. That has left the report in limbo in terms of what influence and status it will have in the forward thinking about not only our naval shipbuilding strategy, but our wider industrial strategy.
I am also concerned about how this matter fits into broader defence industrial strategy. I asked the Minister on
A basic question needs to be asked about shipbuilding: do we want sovereign capability to produce complex warships in this country—yes or no? It is a very simple question that the Government need to answer to give reassurance about the future of the jobs—which the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife raised—and the technical expertise. The problem is that people look at a warship and think that the bulk of the cost and expertise has been met on the outside. It has not. The main value and technology in it are the skills that go into designing it and into systems integration. Our supply chain goes way beyond the Clyde—there is a national footprint of companies in leading-edge technologies. We need to ask whether we want those skills in this country or whether we will just buy from abroad.
When I was first involved in shipbuilding in the late 1980s, the then Government competed at different yards. We had Swan Hunter, Yarrows and Cammell Laird around the country and the Government used to compete contracts between them. At the end of the day, it was pork barrel politics as to who got the contract and that ultimately meant that Swan Hunter closed. Clearly, the strategy after that was to concentrate complex warship building in one yard. That made absolute sense. That one yard is on the Clyde, whether we like it or not. There is no other way of doing it.
The concern I have about Sir John Parker’s report—there are some points in it that I agree with—is that it is a bit naive. It has looked at building the carriers, which are on a huge scale in terms of block modular build, and then more or less said that we can start building Type 26s and others in a modular format. Well, I am sorry but I do not think we can—no disrespect to my hon. Friend Mr Hepburn. These ships are on a different scale. We need one yard to do the integration—the actual build. The idea that we are going to build them around the country to try to get some competition goes back to an argument we had in the late 1990s. I come back to the basic question of whether we actually want complex warship building in this country.
The issue is not just the capability. There is naivety among some people who think that they can order these ships like ordering their next car. They decide what colour they want, go to the showroom and say, “I will have a blue one and we will have a yellow one next year.” That is not how this happens. These are very complex warships and pieces of defence equipment. We need to retain not only the technological capability but the skill base in the yards and in industry, and we need a drumbeat of work going through to ensure that we do that. A classic example of when we got that wrong is when the Conservative Government in the 1990s took us out of submarine building. That led to all the problems we had trying to regenerate the capacity in Barrow for the Astute programme. Unless we keep that drumbeat going, we will get into a situation whereby we cannot rely on the fact that when we need a complex warship, there is one there to be delivered. We cannot turn these skills and capabilities on and off like a tap when they are needed.
One of the real dangers is exactly what the hon. Gentleman describes. As the yards in Glasgow await the commencement of the Type 26 project, engineers—highly skilled workers who can work in many different fields—will not wait around forever.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The issue is not just about generating the skills in the first place—the key investment that companies need to make in apprenticeships and other things. This is now an international market. There are perhaps engineers working on the Clyde who, if there is no work, will move elsewhere in the world. In some cases, they will not come back to the industry. We found that with the Astute programme; nuclear engineers left and trying to get them back, or regenerating those skills and expertise, was very difficult.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent point. Critically, the Canadian suppliers were actually in Glasgow the other week looking for such people to take them to north America.
Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. This is an international market and these skills are very sought after. This comes back to my point that if we want this capability in the UK, we have to nurture and protect it and the only way to do that is by having a throughput of work.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife raised the issue about the Type 26. The delay is adding to that uncertainty. The wider piece really concerns me. To give the impression that we are going to have that drumbeat of work, we have had the Type 31 inserted into the programme. I have studied in detail to try to find out what the Type 31 actually is; no one has been able to tell me yet what it is. It is a bit like the mythical unicorn—everybody thinks it exists, but no one has ever seen one. If the MOD can say that there is a budget line for it, it should please identify that—in the current procurement there is no budget line for it at all in the programme.
Was the hon. Gentleman concerned, as I was, to read in an article in The Daily Telegraph a suggestion from a Ministry of Defence source that there is no budget for Type 31s and that they might not even happen?
As people know, I am a bit of an anorak on this subject and I actually study the MOD accounts, but I still cannot find where this budget line is. Another point that has never been answered is what this ship will actually be used for. I am not sure where it fits into any naval strategy. Will it be able to meet, for example, Britain’s NATO capabilities? Will it have capability to fulfil those roles? If it has not got the air defence capability, it will not. The other thing that people have completely missed is that this is about not just building the ship, but running it afterwards. We all know that there is a crisis in recruitment and manpower in the Royal Navy. Again, where is the budget line for not only building, but running this generation of ships?
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife makes a very important point. The Government say that the great thing about the ships is that they are exportable, but I am sorry, we are bit behind the game on this. He rightly identifies at least two other nations that have product out there.
There is another point about strategy. This is about not only skills, but the defence of our country, because if we have the gap between the Type 23s going out and the Type 26s coming in, there will also be a gap in the nation’s capability. I understand that there is an ongoing extension programme for some Type 23s, but we need clarity, because if there is a gap, we will not be able to protect the carrier groups or some of our other capabilities.
That leads me to the wider piece about the Government’s strategy in this area. The Prime Minister argues that she is batting for Britain and that Britain is the key market, but we have a situation in which the Ministry of Defence, obviously leant on heavily by the Treasury, is happy to have multimillion-pound contracts with the United States—the Apache and P-8 contracts, to name just two—with no commitment whatever that proportionate workshare will come back to the UK economy. I asked the Minister a written question about the Apaches, and I think Boeing said that 5% of the programme’s value will come back into our supply chain. That point is important not just for the number of jobs, but to keep the capability that we need in this country. I cannot imagine for one minute the United States doing something similar, even before President Trump took office, and things will get even worse now. Exporting highly paid jobs and capability from this country is inexcusable. I do not want to see the same thing happening in shipbuilding, so that we will perhaps just buy ships off the shelf from the United States or anywhere else.
A few weeks ago I asked the Minister in a parliamentary question what she was doing to monitor whether Boeing, for example, would put enough jobs into the economy. She fudged the answer, saying, “We don’t monitor this area.” I am sorry, but that is inexcusable. What really irritates me is that if a British company sold a piece of defence kit to the United States of America, there is no way that we would not have to give guarantees about workshare and jobs in the United States. My fear is that without joined-up thinking on shipbuilding, if we are not careful, a time will come when the Treasury says, “Isn’t it cheaper just to buy these from abroad—from the United States or somewhere else?” We would then lose not only the sovereign capability that is so important to this country, but the skill base and jobs that come with that.
I come to my final point. It is about time that the Ministry of Defence fessed up that it has a huge problem, which is only partly of the MOD’s making, because this is actually a Treasury issue. The National Audit Office report is clear about the procurement budget. The Ministry of Defence is falling into an old habit—as a former Minister in the Ministry of Defence, I know this is easy to do—of just pushing the budget sideways, which is what has happened with the defence budget. However, there are other pressures on the day-to-day in-service budgets. Ships are being laid up, for example, because the cash is not available to run in-service services. In addition, there is a huge black hole—it was highlighted in the NAO report—that the MOD has to deal with. We are not talking about separate money; it will have to find £8 billion over the next 10 years for the defence estate. All that falls within the defence budget, so if does not come out of one place, it will come out of another.
The Government need to be honest about where they are with the equipment budget. The Opposition got lectures from the incoming coalition Government about how frugal they would be, in terms of ensuring that they did not over-commit on defence, but they are clearly doing that now. The shipbuilding strategy needs to be published soon. If we are going to answer yes to the question, “Do we want a sovereign capability for shipbuilding in this country?”, we will have to put the money behind it and ensure that the work is of a nature that allows the industry to develop its skills and retain that capability.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Jones and to have listened to his technical expertise in this area. I very much appreciated his speech and particularly his support for the Clyde shipyards. I congratulate my hon. Friend Douglas Chapman on securing the debate, and it is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Evans.
I shall start, as the hon. Member for North Durham did, with the extraordinary process regarding the strategy. He is not the only one who thought that Sir John Parker’s report would be the national shipbuilding strategy; I and other hon. Members of the House did too, as did trade unions and the defence industry.
I remember that exchange, and there was clearly confusion about the report. I also find it extraordinary that although Sir John Parker’s report was sent to the Ministry of Defence on
I was very concerned when it was pointed out to me that on
If what my hon. Friend is saying is anywhere near the truth and the Type 31s will not exist, what does that say about the drumbeat for Govan and Scotstoun?
I would be very concerned about that, and I will come to the effects of that later. Sir John Parker’s report is an honest attempt to end the “feast and famine” procurement processes by the Ministry of Defence that have often plagued the shipbuilding industry. If any other public services carried out procurement processes in the way that the Ministry of Defence does, there would be uproar in the streets—imagine if it was equipment for the health service or education, and so on.
I am pleased that Sir John Parker’s report also recognises the capability and skills of shipyard workers on the Clyde—in my constituency, in the Govan shipyard, and in Scotstoun, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Carol Monaghan—working on digital technology adapted from the automotive sector and with new working practices that have increased productivity. It is an honour and a privilege to represent them in this Parliament. The shipyard workers are also supported by trade unions and are represented at shop-floor level by representatives who have campaigned tenaciously over the years to ensure that future work is secured. Any announcements that come from the Government are a victory for them more than anyone else. However, as someone who had family members in Yarrows who were made redundant under a Tory Government, I always view such commitments from this Government with suspicion when it comes to shipbuilding.
Sir John Parker’s report also recognises that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships should be assembled in the UK. It really is a nonsense that that work has been farmed out elsewhere. I would hope that Rosyth, to cite one example, would have that opportunity. Failure to ensure that Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships are built in the UK will make the report fall at the first hurdle. An award to a UK yard for Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships would demonstrate that the Government are serious about ensuring that an export model can be achieved and that investment in technology can be kept.
I hope we will get that today. I hope the Minister will give us that commitment.
There is one fatal flaw, however, in Sir John Parker’s report, which needs to be tackled. His assumption that there is no precedent for building different first-class naval ships concurrently is wrong. In the 1990s, Yarrow shipyards were building and constructing Royal Navy ships as well as exporting ships to Malaysia. This precedent was envisaged by the Clyde shipyard taskforce in 2002, chaired by the then Scottish Executive Minister, Wendy Alexander, and the former Scottish Office Minister, Brian Wilson, which ensured that the Govan shipyard was responsible for the steelworks and that Scotstoun was to become the centre for excellence.
There is therefore reason to argue that Govan could construct the Type 26 frigates and Scotstoun could develop the new Type 31 frigate, using the specialist design capability to ensure that it could be exported to other countries. Such technical expertise to carry out the work is already there on the Clyde, but it will require investment. MOD pressure not to invest in the frigate factory—promises that led to the demolition of the covered berth and module hall at Scotstoun—has meant that we still have a constrained capacity and that the full potential for shipbuilding on the Clyde has not yet been realised. I want to hear from the Government about progressive plans with respect to shipyard reconstruction to unlock significant long-term advances and savings for the industry so that it can win more orders, not only here but from overseas.
Sacrifices have been made by shipyard workers on the Clyde. Let us not forget that to get to where we are now, workers on the Clyde took redundancy to ensure that the rest would be kept and that they would be match-fit to build the 13 Type 26 frigates. I hope that today the Minister will confirm procurement processes for the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates. The trade unions have said that failure to ensure that the Clyde leads on the general-purpose frigates would be a betrayal.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Evans. I am conscious of the time and will make sure that we all get a chance to participate.
I thank Douglas Chapman for bringing the issue forward today. He spoke very well, as he always does. He has been an advocate for shipbuilding across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where we are all better together, as I often say, Mr Evans—I am sure that in this case you would probably say, “Yes, you’re probably right on that.” [Laughter.] I digress slightly, Mr Evans; I apologise for doing so.
This is an issue that I have given much thought to and had much discussion about, having just come off the Select Committee on Defence. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend Gavin Robinson here. He took over my position on the Defence Committee and is already much involved in the issues. It is good to see him here and involved in the work on that Committee.
We have what is undoubtedly the finest Navy in the world. That is a recognised fact. That is no surprise, given that we are a small group of islands. At one stage we were described as the empire on whom the sun never set, as we controlled so much of the world. Our Navy was a major reason for that and our Navy retains a major role in the strength of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland today.
A strong army needs a strong fleet, and this is where the national shipbuilding strategy must play its part in the process. These are the facts: the Ministry of Defence is in the middle of an ambitious recapitalisation programme for its naval surface fleet. The Government plan to spend some £19 billion over the next decade on surface ships for the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The Royal Navy designates a class of frigates and destroyers as a Type. The Navy has a fleet of 13 frigates, all Type 23s, which will begin to leave service from 2023 onwards. Hon. Members who have spoken so far have expressed concern—it is my concern as well—about the delays and the timescale, and about the quantity and numbers as well. We look to the Minister today for a response that can put our minds at ease and allay our fears.
Plans to replace the fleet changed significantly in 2015, when the Government dropped proposals to replace it on a one-to-one basis with the yet-to-be-built Type 26 frigates. Only eight Type 26 frigates will be ordered, and a new class of general-purpose frigate, unofficially known as the Type 31s, will be developed. We spoke on the topic of the Type 26 in October, and my stance today is as it was then, when I said:
“It is my desire...to see the new British fleet built in Britain. As we have said, we are marching to the steady drumbeat of orders, and that must be the way we move.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 615, c. 308WH.]
Hon. Members have suggested that although the drumbeat of orders is on paper, we need to have it confirmed and the timescale needs to be in place.
BAE Systems is the prime industry partner for naval warships and submarines. I welcome the Government’s confirmation that the steel is to be cut on the Type 26 in summer 2017, although as Mr Jones said earlier, summer can develop into autumn—or indeed winter, whatever the case may be. The work will be at BAE’s two remaining shipyards, both located on the Clyde. Again, I can say it is within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I welcome the commitment, but the Government have not gone far enough and there is much uncertainty about what the highly anticipated report will bring.
I read an interesting report—Members have referred to it—on a website called Save the Royal Navy. Its opinion on the Parker report states:
“On 29th November Sir John Parker’s report to inform the UK National Shipbuilding Strategy...was published. Commissioned by the Treasury, exasperated with decades of continual delays and cost increases to warship construction, the report is concise and written in clear layman’s language. The 34 recommendations are eminently sensible and the report has generated at least temporarily, a warm and fuzzy feeling of consensus and optimism.”
That is a positive response looking towards the future. However, that report goes on to say:
“Amongst independent observers there is cynicism about whether any of the recommendations of the report will be implemented at all. Most of the issues highlighted have long been known but nothing has been done for years. By commissioning the report, the Treasury has at least created a roadmap to escape the current shipbuilding malaise which will be difficult to ignore.”
Perhaps the Minister will respond to that. The report continues:
“It is now up to government to properly fund, endorse and enforce the recommendations when it formulates and implements the actual shipbuilding strategy next year. Should those in power be bold enough to do so, it would go a long way to reviving the RN and have great benefits to UK industry.”
This is exactly the phrase we want to see:
“It is now up to government to properly fund, endorse” and fulfil the recommendations—and, I would say, their obligations as well. That is why we are here this afternoon. These are matters of national importance and we need to impress upon our Ministers, particularly the Minister who is here, the importance of implementing the review and incorporating the recommendations for shipbuilding for our Navy.
We do not always get full details from the Library, but on this occasion we have oodles of information, which has been very helpful to inform our speeches. One thing that has not been mentioned is the issue of logistics ships. We have heard much about frigates, but I want to mention logistics ships on the record, because—the Minister will know this—it seems that South Korea is going to build them, and I want to know: why are we not building them here? I mean no disrespect to South Korea—it has a lot to do and is very expert in what it does—but I would like our people to have the opportunity.
There has been a suggestion that conversions from commercial shipping might be the right solution. If it is the solution, let it happen at home, using our own shipbuilding expertise. We have shipbuilders throughout the UK and they must benefit from Government contracts. A Ministry of Defence principle ensuring that only home firms get the work is a must. It is important to entire communities that rely on the work and the money. More importantly, however, we do not ask for ships to be built only to save jobs; we need those ships for the security of the nation. Sometimes that point is lost in the debate. We are thinking about the security of the nation, to make sure that we are okay. We have a duty and responsibility. I should like to say that I have every confidence—provided that the Minister gives a good response today. We must impress on her how vital it is to have a strong, fully functioning Navy. That can happen only with proper frigates and the right types of ships.
I implore the Minister to set our minds at ease and ensure that the report takes into consideration all that has been said, in the valuable contributions made by all Members to the debate. Certain things cannot be scaled back, and one of those is our defence capability. The Navy is an essential component of that, which must be recognised in the forthcoming national shipbuilding strategy. I thank the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife for setting the scene, and all other hon. Members who have spoken. We look to the Minister for the response that we need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend Douglas Chapman on securing this important debate. The timing could not be better, given the revelations about the cost of UK defence projects in all forces, not only the Navy. I want to raise two points. The first is about our priorities. They are set in the national security strategies and should flow into the strategic defence and security review and the Government’s priorities in this area. The second is the effect of the recent National Audit Office report on procurement for large defence projects and the affordability of the national shipbuilding strategy that we anticipate.
The national security strategy and the SDSR should inform the procurement process and, because of that, the national shipbuilding strategy. However, there seems to be a logical inconsistency in how that is applied. In paragraph 75 of the SDSR, the Ministry of Defence is quoted as saying that the document will
“determine priorities for investment to ensure that the UK has a full suite of capabilities with which to respond to defence and security threats”.
Page 67 identifies the three tiers of domestic and overseas risks, grading them as tier 1, 2 or 3 threats,
“based on a judgement of the combination of both likelihood and impact.”
Taking that at face value, the National Security Council has identified terrorism, international military conflict, cyber, public health, major natural hazards and instability overseas as the tier 1 threats facing the UK. That exercise having been undertaken, one would have thought the resources would follow the perceived threats and their perceived likelihood, but that does not seem to be the approach followed by the Ministry of Defence, particularly in the present case.
Does my hon. Friend feel that the amount of resource going into the Dreadnought programme is skewing all other budgets and making the Minister’s job of preserving our surface ship fleet much more difficult?
Yes, I think that is a concern that many of us have—that the priorities identified in the risk assessment done for the document I have quoted are not being followed in Government spending. Perhaps that is why there has been delay after delay in the project.
Does the hon. Gentleman also recognise that the Dreadnought programme is putting money into the Scottish economy? A success story in that regard is that Babcock is doing the missile tubes at Rosyth.
If we are going to take the SDSR process seriously and look at the assessment of what we need for the defence of the country, we must deal with tier 1 threats first—that is why they are tier 1 threats. Clearly, if we are to meet the threats identified, the shipbuilding programme is essential.
As my hon. Friend Chris Stephens noted, the Government promised that 13 Type 26 frigates would be built on the Clyde, then revised that substantially, to eight, with five multi-purpose frigates. At paragraph 90 of its report on the 2% level of spending by the Government, the Defence Committee correctly identifies the risk to the Type 31 programme:
“Should...the ‘concept study’
to investigate the potential for a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigate be unsuccessful, we wish to be informed at the earliest opportunity of the MoD’s contingency plans to deliver the extra ships to satisfy the total originally promised.”
The Government’s response to those concerns merely indicates a willingness to keep the Committee informed. We are looking for some more concrete answers from the Minister today. Furthermore, we still await confirmation that the frigates will be built on the Clyde. Should that not occur, it will be a betrayal of the Clyde workers, as my hon. Friend said. They would be entitled to feel betrayed; it would threaten the yards’ capacity to deliver complex warships in the future and would undermine the UK’s ability to meet the challenges identified in its own national security strategy and the SDSR.
My second concern is that the shipbuilding strategy will not be affordable. I am concerned that there will be further backtracking on the commitments. It is fine to have a strategy, with many large new procurement projects, but if there is no money to actualise the strategy, what is the point in the exercise? According to the National Audit Office’s report, “The Equipment Plan 2016 to 2026”—which Mr Jones, among others, has already alluded to—the price of the plan has ballooned by 20%, to £82 billion, in a single year. That means that the Department has allocated all headroom previously set aside in the plan, removing all the flexibility to accommodate additional capability requirements. That is why we need reassurance today.
Given that the Type 26 project started at a projected cost of £343 million per hull, according to the 2015 major projects report, and is now £1 billion per hull, according to oral evidence to the Defence Committee, the MOD does not have, and never has had, a proven track record of acquiring big-ticket items on time and on budget. Rather than dealing with those pressures in the past, it has pushed the programmes further down the list and allowed service dates to slip, exactly as has been described today.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is added pressure on the defence budget because of Brexit, in terms of the value of the dollar, which is made worse when we procure large-ticket items from the United States?
The hon. Gentleman must have read my mind, because I am coming on to say that point 18 of the NAO report summary states:
“Changes in foreign exchange rates, such as those that happened after the EU referendum, can pose a significant risk to the Plan’s affordability in the future. As at
That will have a major impact.
I understand that the Department has a certain amount of protection against foreign exchange rates in arranging its finances, but does not it worry the Minister that such a large amount of the plan is predicated on foreign exchange rates, with the Government appearing to be gambling that the rate will not go up further? Given the Government position that economists cannot be trusted, which is what many current Ministers said during the recent referendum—and going by even a cursory look at the financial predictions before Brexit—can we really have any confidence that the envisaged programme can be afforded? That is why we need reassurance today.
The shipbuilding strategy is long overdue and, given the current state of the Department’s books, it is badly needed to provide clarity for those working in shipbuilding and those monitoring our national defence readiness going forward.
My hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong but, to take F-35s as an example, they are 85% built in the United States, and therefore bought in dollars. That is critical when we reflect on the impact of the fall in the pound compared with the dollar.
Absolutely. That illustrates the point very well. I hope that the Minister will reassure us today about the Type 26 programme and the Type 31 programme, about the ships being built on the Clyde as promised, and on the affordability of the shipbuilding strategy that the Government will hopefully soon present. Finally, I hope that by the end of the debate we shall know with certainty when the overdue shipbuilding strategy will be published.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I sincerely thank my hon. Friend Douglas Chapman for securing this important debate.
I am pleased to see that all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom are represented here today, but I have to ask: with the honourable exceptions of the Minister and Jo Churchill, where are all the Government Members? On the day we debated the royal yacht Britannia, one could not get one’s nose through the door for Government Members wishing to contribute. Yet here we are, discussing the national shipbuilding strategy, and apart from the honourable exceptions I mentioned, not a single Government Member is here to take part or even listen.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife; as always, he has hit the nail on the head. I join him in seeking an assurance from the Ministry of Defence that it will be able to form the functioning carrier group that he mentioned. I also join him in seeking a cast-iron guarantee that the building of surface ships will not suffer as the big-ticket items begin to come on to the books over the next decade or so. I look forward to the Minister addressing those questions.
I recognise the contribution of my hon. Friend Steven Paterson, who questioned—rightly, in the light of the National Audit Office report—how the Government intend to pay for this equipment, given that we have been told that there is no headroom whatever, the contingency funds have gone and the costs are ballooning.
I commend the tenacity of my hon. Friend Chris Stephens, who has been a tireless campaigner on behalf of the shipbuilders of his constituency and of workers the length and breadth of the country. I hope the Minister was listening carefully when he articulated the fears of workers on the Clyde at Scotstoun and Govan.
Mr Jones was correct to refer to the status of Sir John Parker’s report. We were told that the strategy would be delivered; then, after it was not delivered, we were told that Sir John Parker’s report was merely for information. I would like to know when that was decided—I will return to that point in a moment. The hon. Gentleman also raised the vital question of the status of the Type 31s. I hope that the Minister will clarify the exact role that the Type 31s will play. Will she give cast-iron guarantees that they will actually happen?
My hon. Friends the Members for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) raised an incredibly important point: the delays and uncertainty caused by holding back the national shipbuilding strategy are in danger of producing a skills flight from Scotland, particularly from the Clyde. As we have heard, Canadian shipbuilders are already advertising locally in and around Glasgow, promising jobs in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That is deeply worrying.
The contributions from Scottish National party Members can be summed up with a single question: when will the Government finally publish the national shipbuilding strategy? As so many of us have said, it has been much discussed in this House. It has been talked about, promised and threatened; as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire said, we were even told on one occasion that it had actually been published, only for it to disappear again. The hon. Member for North Durham described the national shipbuilding strategy as a unicorn, and in many ways he is right. However, I tend to look at it as the Maris Crane or the Mrs Mainwaring of UK politics—a central character in a long-running series who is much talked about and around whom entire storylines may be based, but who is never, ever seen. Sadly, while Maris Crane or Mrs Mainwaring are cleverly constructed comedic devices, the national shipbuilding strategy is descending into farce.
I look forward to the Minister’s attempt to use smoke and mirrors to explain why the House and the people whose livelihoods depend on the report are still waiting for it in February 2017, when it was promised many times that it would be here before the autumn statement. My first memory of the national shipbuilding strategy being promised goes back to
“the national shipbuilding strategy will report by the autumn statement.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 615, c. 318WH.]
There were no caveats, qualifications or stipulations—nothing to suggest that that would not happen. It was a clear and unequivocal promise that the strategy—not a report that would inform the strategy, but the strategy itself—would be delivered before the autumn statement.
The Minister then told me at Defence questions on
“the national shipbuilding strategy…will be announced nearer to the autumn statement…I am sure that there will be great news for shipbuilding across Scotland and the whole of the UK.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 616, c. 1237.]
How would we know? We have never seen the strategy. It has not appeared.
We were given false hope on
“complaining about the lack of publication of a report that has been published”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 618, c. 485.]
She even offered to send me a signed copy of it. Needless to say, signing, gift-wrapping and sending something that did not actually exist proved a step too far, even for the not inconsiderable skills of the Minister.
Sadly, it is a will-o’-the-wisp—it does not exist. Perhaps it will come when Brigadoon next appears.
The rest of the country and I remain without the national shipbuilding strategy, signed or unsigned. Five months after the first recorded promise that it would be delivered, we are still waiting. I fully concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife that our frustration at being led a merry dance by the Government over the shipbuilding strategy must be nothing compared with the frustration of the shipbuilding workers and the servicemen and women of the Royal Navy who depend on the strategy for their livelihoods. We may poke fun at the Minister, but let us never forget that we are dealing with people’s lives and people’s jobs. Those people deserve respect, and when their Government say that something will appear on a given date, they should be able to trust that it will.
The Minister has a lot to address in her reply, but I ask her to address the following questions in particular. When will we see the national shipbuilding strategy? Will there be a full carrier group capability in 2023, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife asked? Can she guarantee that surface shipbuilding will not be squeezed as the cost of Trident soars, the economy shrinks and the pound loses value? What is the status of the Type 31 frigates, as the hon. Member for North Durham asked? Can the Minister guarantee that they will be built? Will she give a timetable for the construction of the Type 26, as she has been asked? Is she aware of the levels of concern that have been caused by these delays, and will she act accordingly?
There is so much about the national shipbuilding strategy that needs to be discussed. At the risk of repeating myself, I am sorry that so few Government Members are here to listen to this vital national debate. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate Douglas Chapman on securing this debate; it is on a very important subject and, as has been said, it has given us a first opportunity to discuss Sir John Parker’s important report.
I welcome the contributions of Scottish National party colleagues, Jim Shannon and my hon. Friend Mr Jones, who showed his expertise in this area. However, it is a great shame—a crying shame—that there are no Conservative Members of Parliament present, apart from the Minister and, rather belatedly, somebody else who I think has come in for another debate. It is a great shame that we have not had a full Chamber and that we have not all been able to debate collectively what is a fundamentally important issue for this country.
I will focus my comments on the situation regarding the strategy from the Ministry of Defence. My starting point, of course, is what the Government themselves declared in 2015 in their strategic defence and security review. They said that they were committed to maintaining a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers, and that they intended to complement that force with a new class of lighter and flexible general purpose frigates. At that time, they correctly made the link between the need to develop our national security and the promotion of our domestic prosperity. The Government proudly announced then that a new national shipbuilding strategy
“will lay the foundations for a modern and efficient sector capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs.”
In the Budget of 2016, the Government proudly announced that they had appointed the eminent Sir John Parker to lead and write a national shipbuilding strategy, and it was promised that a report would be prepared and presented to this House in 2016.
However, there has been genuine confusion and I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify the situation. On
My questions are quite simple. How did that metamorphosis take place; why did it take place; why is there confusion; what contact was there between the different Departments; and who is taking the lead on this issue? Those are very important questions about something as fundamental as the strategy for our future warships, which is not an issue that can be lightly dismissed. I echo what other Members have said: we would all like answers from the Minister about what on earth has happened and what on earth is going on.
Of course, Sir John’s report is very radical and extremely scathing about how things work, or rather do not work, within the Ministry of Defence regarding Royal Navy programmes. The report has a very interesting, informative and worrying chart about the length of time it takes for projects to develop to fruition. For example, Sir John points out that it was in 1967 that the conceptual start of the Type 21 frigates began and they were delivered nine years later. As for the Type 23 frigates, the conceptual start date was in 1978, but it took 17 years for that project to come to fruition. Goodness knows how long it will take for the Type 26 frigates.
Sir John asks why there have been such long delays. Why has this process taken such a long period of time? In some ways, the demands upon the frigates have changed. The world has changed and defence requirements have changed, but there is still that laborious project time before us. Why has that happened?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that these delays not only impact on the Royal Navy but on the local economy in Scotland? He may be aware of the GMB report on Scottish shipbuilding and the value of shipbuilding to the Scottish economy.
Indeed, I fully support those points. The situation is very worrying for all concerned, not least the people who are employed in the shipbuilding industry and the local communities from which they are drawn.
Sir John gives a number of reasons why the long delays have occurred. He makes 11 points. I will not go through all of them, but will just pick out some of the reasons he suggests. He says that there has been
“A lack of assured Capital budget per RN ship series, subject to annual arbitrary change, with accumulative negative impact on time and cost with accompanying increased risk of obsolescence”.
That is very worrying. He also says that there have been
“Poor linkages across the ‘Total Enterprise’
including industrial capability and capacity”.
He goes on to say:
“Senior decision-makers have, previously, been engaged too late in the process and not always with high quality information and costing data”.
“The MOD has lost expertise in both design and project contract management”.
He says that there has been
“Inadequate evaluation of risk contingency in each project”.
Those are some of the damning reasons why Sir John says there have been delays. I suggest that they are an indictment of the MOD, which really must sort things out once and for all regarding its procurement and governance strategy for warships.
Once the strategy has been written by the Government, when will it be published? I will not ask for the exact day or week, but will it be published in March, April, May, or whenever? We would like some sort of indication. Once it is published, we would like to know what sort of consultation there will be and how long it will last. I ask that because we want to have a full debate on every dot and comma of that important policy document.
I recognise that the Minister will not say very much about what might or might not be in that report. Nevertheless, I have a number of questions for her. First, will the Government sort out, once and for all, their procurement and governance systems for warship construction in this country? There really ought to be a masterplan that should be reviewed at each SDSR, and as part of that approach there should be a partnership with both the industry and the trade unions. As Sir John has suggested, a shipyard trade union representative ought to be appointed to attend regular meetings, to enhance the transparency and efficiency of the processes that are under way.
Secondly, will the Government commit to working with their industry partners and trade unions to enhance the training and educational capabilities and facilities, so that there is the correct mix of skills and competence, particularly with regard to the new digital systems that are coming on stream?
Thirdly, will the Government commit to having a small but highly specialised virtual innovation centre to force through, among other things, advances in design, new materials and productivity improvements? As Sir John has argued, such an innovation centre is necessary if we are to oversee the new “global competitiveness plans”, which I believe the Government want to see being created.
Finally, will the Government commit to placing a greater emphasis on the exporting of British-built ships, as well as British project management, design, equipment and sub-systems? Will they not only engage in general rhetoric, but commit to specifics, as part of a great national effort to ensure not just that British-built ships are used for British defence, but that the expertise in this country is sold for the benefit of navies throughout the world?
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to my questions.
In the short time available to me—I want to leave a bit of time for Douglas Chapman to say a few more words at the end of the debate—I will attempt to answer all the questions that hon. Members have put this afternoon, to the extent that I can. The 2015 strategic defence and security review set out a clear plan for the Royal Navy. For the first time in a generation, we are growing our Royal Navy, and this major programme of investment will increase our nation’s power and reach. There seems to have been quite a lot of discussion in the debate about the exact timings for various different documents. We made it clear in the Budget last year—I will quote the exact wording—that:
“The government has appointed Sir John Parker to lead the national ship building strategy, which was confirmed in the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. He will report by Autumn Statement 2016.”
In the end, it was
I have not received a copy. I look forward to a signed copy; it would be far more valuable. If what she is now saying is right, why did she say on no fewer than four occasions that the national shipbuilding strategy will be delivered by the autumn statement? It was unequivocal.
It is about the distinction between the report and the Government’s publication of the national shipbuilding strategy. A range of people raised this issue, so I make it clear that we are considering Sir John’s recommendations, and we will provide a full response, which will be what we can all call the national shipbuilding strategy. It will be published in spring 2017. I am sure Members will appreciate that I cannot be more precise than that in terms of a specific date.
In previous engagements at the Defence Select Committee, the Minister has indicated her willingness to travel throughout the United Kingdom to see the other opportunities that are available. Given that the largest dry dock and the second largest dry dock in the United Kingdom are in my constituency at Harland and Wolff, I look forward not only to the Minister visiting, but to formulating plans that can feed in to her final report and considerations.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for an obviously irresistible invitation. I hope I will be able to take him up on it in the not-so-distant future. For the record, I say to Mr Hepburn that I am in Newcastle tomorrow. I look forward to meeting a range of manufacturers. I will not specifically be meeting A&P Tyne on this occasion, but I met A&P in Falmouth only last week.
In the SDSR we announced our plans for a naval programme of investment. We are investing in two new aircraft carriers, which are currently being completed at Rosyth. We are investing in new submarines to be based in Scotland at Faslane. We have announced our plans for frigates. We are building five new offshore patrol vessels on the Clyde at the moment. We have ordered new aircraft, including the maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8, which will be based at Lossiemouth. Scotland is clearly doing well out of defence, and the UK is doing well in defence with Scotland, and 2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting the UK’s influence globally and delivering security at home. I do not have time in this debate to list all the different ships we have deployed across the world’s oceans.
I know the appetite of Members for publications. They will have all read the 2016 equipment plan, which we published last month. It laid out the plans in more detail and announced that the total amount that will be spent on the procurement and support of surface ships and submarines over the next decade amounts to some £63 billion. It is all part of the continued modernisation of the Royal Navy in the coming years, which will be underpinned by our national shipbuilding strategy. It is very much our intention that the strategy will be a radical, fundamental reappraisal of shipbuilding in the UK, with the aim of placing UK naval shipbuilding on a sustainable long-term footing. It will set the foundations for a modern, efficient and competitive sector, capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs.
The hon. Gentleman will have read the equipment plan. I do not have the exact quote here, but clearly we have a very ambitious equipment plan. We are expecting to spend some £63 billion on ships, support and submarines.
I want to convey to Sir John Parker the thanks of all Members who have spoken today for his excellent report. He is clearly a highly respected expert. Importantly, he has taken an independent approach to the report. He has had a high level of engagement with stakeholders. Members asked about his engagement. He has visited all key industry leaders and all the companies across the UK that design and build ships, including in Northern Ireland. He has visited small and medium-sized businesses in the supply chain. Industry stakeholders were engaged at all levels. He brought strong strategic direction and guidance to the work, for which we are immensely grateful. He also met trade bodies, trade unions, Ministers, civilian and military officials and, indeed, the hon. Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). He has been thoroughly engaged with everyone.
I have not got much time left, so I will speak very briefly about exports, which a range of Members raised. The report makes an important recommendation about exports. We have already started that work, working closely with the Defence and Security Organisation in the Department for International Trade. Members can expect to hear more about that in the coming weeks and months.
The Type 26 programme is a key element of our investment plans. To meet our needs, we require eight to replace the eight anti-submarine-focused Type 23 frigates. Members will be aware that the Defence Secretary announced in November last year that, assuming successful completion of the negotiations, we expect to sign a contract for the first batch of the eight planned Type 26s and cut steel on the first ship this summer. That would give BAE Systems on the Clyde work until the early to mid-2030s. Commercial contract negotiations are intense and ongoing, so I cannot make any more information available to the House today. The investment will sustain shipbuilding skills at the shipyards on the Clyde and continue to provide opportunities in the wider supply chain around the UK. The ships will provide an anti-submarine warfare capability, which is essential for the protection of our nuclear deterrent. SNP Members had a bit of a political pop at me, but they would do well to remember what I have just said. Their two political obsessions—Scottish independence and ending our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent—would be two of the worst things that could befall the Scottish shipbuilding industry.
Briefly on the Type 31e, Sir John recommended that a new class of lighter general purpose frigate should be given priority. He was clear that it should be designed to be exportable, but capable of incorporating the needs of the Royal Navy. A lot of work is under way on that in the MOD. It is in the pre-concept phase, and further information will be made available in the national shipbuilding strategy.
In summary, the MOD is working with colleagues across Government and with industry to examine Sir John Parker’s report and its recommendations in full. I recognise that Members value the shipbuilding jobs in their constituencies, and I assure them that the Government are committed to an industrial strategy that will increase economic growth across the country and refresh our defence industrial policy.
I opened the debate by talking about déjà vu, but the debate has been déjà vu writ large. I asked when we could expect an announcement on the national shipbuilding strategy. There was no reply from the Minister. We asked how the carrier group will be secured when it is at sea. There was no reply from the Minister. We asked whether surface ships would be prioritised in the budget, and again, there was no commitment from the Minister. What we did discuss was whether a signature was on a document. What we really need to see is her signature on contracts to ensure that jobs on the Clyde are safe and secure for the years to come.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the national shipbuilding strategy.