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.