Harriett responds to a debate on the National Shipbuilding Strategy
8th February 2017
Harriett Baldwin responds on behalf of the Government to a debate on the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the programme of investment in the Royal Navy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)
In the short time available to me—I want to leave a bit of time for the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (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 29 November. My office assures me that a copy of the report was sent to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). I am happy to take bids on whether it has been suitably autographed. If he has not received it, he should have, by this stage.
Will the Minister give way?
I will, if he has not received a copy.
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.
Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
If Members want to take up my time, I will give way.
Will the Minister outline the process? A few Members have mentioned that, including the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David). Once the Government publish the national shipbuilding strategy and its response to Sir John Parker, what is the process? Who feeds into that response?
I will be talking a little more about that in my speech.
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 the hon. Member for Jarrow (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.
Mr Kevan Jones
Can the Minister point out in the Budget where the budget line is for the Type 31?
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.