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Defence Questions

23rd October 2017

Harriett Baldwin answers questions on defence.

Shipbuilding/Type 31e Frigate

Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)

4. What progress he has made on implementing the national shipbuilding strategy and on procuring the Type 31e frigate. [901303]

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)

16. What progress he has made on implementing the national shipbuilding strategy and on procuring the Type 31e frigate. [901315]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

We published our national shipbuilding strategy in September. The very next day, we launched the programme for five new Type 31e frigates. We are currently considering at least 20 different proposals from industry across the UK.

Scott Mann

I thank the Minister for her response. It is fantastic news that the national shipbuilding strategy will benefit the whole United Kingdom. Cornwall has a long and proud history with the sea. HMS Cornwall was decommissioned in June 2011. I urge her to take a bid from Cornwall to put, once again, Cornwall back on the waves.

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is an absolute champion for his county of Cornwall. He will be aware that we have started to announce the names of the Type 26 frigates with HMS Glasgow and HMS Belfast. Further names will be announced in due course. The Type 31e frigate will be named by the Royal Navy Ships Names and Badges Committee, and he has set out his claim today.

Mark Pawsey

The strategy announced by the Secretary of State will provide many opportunities for the supply chain, including for companies such as GE Energy in my constituency, which is currently working on the first batch of the Type 26—the global combat ship. Will the Minister say something about the timetable for the second batch of those vessels?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend highlights the importance of the supply chain right across the UK and the fact that, in a relatively landlocked part of the UK, so much work is pouring in from the frigate programme. We announced a £3.7 billion first batch of Type 26 frigates. We will be securing the necessary approvals to carry on negotiations for that contract and we will announce the second batch of five frigates early in the 2020s.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)

14. Despite the challenges facing the UK steel industry, too many of the offshore patrol vessels used by the Royal Navy are being built with foreign steel. Can the Minister assure us that, as part of the national shipbuilding strategy, British steel will be put first when building new vessels? [901313]

Harriett Baldwin

I am delighted to let the House know that UK steel was represented at the first of the industry days that we held for the Type 31e frigate at the end of September. Its involvement at that very early stage ensures that it has the very best chance of winning these competitions.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)

How does the Minister respond to suggestions from trade unions on the Clyde that the promises made to them have been broken by the Ministry of Defence, and will the Government change their illogical decision to put three fleet support ships out to international competition? Should they not be built in the UK, too?

Harriett Baldwin

Well, honestly, every time I talk about our wonderful programme of shipbuilding in the UK, I hear nothing but doom and gloom from our friends on the Scottish nationalist Benches. In fact—and no one would believe this—there are currently 15 ships being built in Scotland, including the second of the two new aircraft carriers, two decades-worth of work on the frigate programme and five new offshore patrol vessels. Frankly, I do not know what I could do to keep these gentlemen and ladies happy.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con)

7. What recent progress has been made on bringing HMS Queen Elizabeth into service. [901306]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Rosyth in June to commence her sea trials. She made her first entry into Portsmouth in August for a scheduled engineering period. Her second set of sea trials should begin this week, weather permitting. She remains on track to be accepted into the Royal Navy this year.

Suella Fernandes

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as well as projecting global Britain’s power for the next 50 years, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will provide long-term skilled job opportunities and training for people in Portsmouth and in neighbouring constituencies such as mine?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that this is not only about the 10,000 people who have worked on getting the ship to the point where she is now, but about long-term sustainment over the next 50 years. May I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to put on record my appreciation to the Fareham company Boskalis Westminster Ltd, which did a lot of the dredging of Portsmouth harbour?

Mr Speaker

Ah, splendid!

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab)

Will the Minister update the House on what is happening with regard to ordering the aircraft for the aircraft carrier? It would be handy to have an update on that.

Harriett Baldwin

I am pleased to be able to update the hon. Gentleman. As he will know, we already have 12 F-35 aircraft and they are already flying in the US. We will have 14 by the end of the year. Next year, we are on track to stand up the first squadron in the UK. I am pleased that I was able to announce last week that the F-35 has successfully completed the trials on the ski jump in the US and is now cleared to take off from the carrier.

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Topical Questions

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)

Given the announcement of nearly 2,000 job losses at BAE Systems, will the Government bring forward their order for new Hawk aircraft for the Red Arrows to maintain industrial capacity?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

May I use this opportunity to put on the record what a wonderful job the Red Arrows do for the UK around the world? I congratulate them on the successful 11-country tour from which they have just returned. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Hawk is an important training aircraft for the RAF. We have 75 of them and expect them to last until 2030. We are pursuing a range of export opportunities around the world.

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Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)

T7. Do the Government plan to provide mid-life upgrades to the Typhoon and Chinook? [901345]

Harriett Baldwin

We will create two additional frontline squadrons from our existing fleet and extend Typhoon in service until 2040. The Typhoon’s capabilities are constantly evolving through initiatives such as Project Centurion. We will also upgrade our Chinook heavy-lift helicopter to extend its life into the 2040s.

Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)

T3. The Government’s intention to come out of the single market and the customs union will affect the complex supply chains in defence procurement. Has the Minister made a full assessment of the implications of Brexit for defence procurement, taking into account the complex supply chains? [901341]

Harriett Baldwin

I assure the hon. Lady that an extensive programme of work is under way not only in the Ministry of Defence, but with our colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union. We are very conscious of the importance of those supply chains.

Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)

Five ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Exeter after Devon’s county capital, the first in 1680. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be entirely appropriate if one of the new frigates continued that great tradition?

Harriett Baldwin

My right hon. Friend makes a very compelling case, as have many other colleagues from all parts of the House. I am sure he will welcome the fact that an offshore patrol vessel, HMS Tamar, is currently being built.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)

T8. It must be in the national interest to retain domestic military aircraft manufacturing capability. If the Government do not bring forward a replacement for the Red Arrows, how will they guarantee that domestic capacity while military orders are secured for the long term at BAE, given the current shortage of orders? [901346]

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, because we have such strong leadership in this area. What I would say is this: it is also important that we show cross-party support for the many export campaigns BAE Systems is involved in around the world. I urge him to do what he can with his leader and the Opposition Front-Bench team to do that.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)

Given that Typhoon is scheduled to leave service in 2040, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to procure the next generation of fighter aircraft given the potential opportunities for export, and to preserve and maintain our sovereign defence capability?

Harriett Baldwin

Again, a very important question. On the support we are giving to Typhoon exports around the world, I was delighted that recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able to sign a statement of intent with Qatar. We will continue with that effort, as well as considering our options on a replacement.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab)

It is 35 years since HMS Sheffield was sunk in the Falklands war, and my constituents believe it is about time that another Royal Navy ship was named after our great city. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the relevant committee gives full consideration to ensuring that we can enjoy the third HMS Sheffield?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Lady makes a poignant appeal for another ship to be named HMS Sheffield, and I am sure that her representations will have been heard by the relevant committee. I am pleased we are building so many new ships in this country that we can have all these new names.

Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)

Engineers at BAE in Chelmsford were critical in developing the Sampson multi-function radar, the Sea Wolf missile tracking radar and the highly innovative T994 two-dimensional radar. When it comes to the next generation, the ballistic missile defence radar, will the MOD consider employment as well as capability and make sure that these skills stay in Britain?

Harriett Baldwin

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we do not have to distinguish between the two things, because the radars made by BAE Systems are unrivalled around the world.

Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

The Secretary of State’s own permanent secretary said last Tuesday to the Defence Select Committee, on the subject of the F-35 programme:

“We will not be in a position to be able to give a precise view as to what the whole of this very complicated programme will be until 2035”.

Does that not put paid to the Secretary of State’s incredible claim that eight Type 26 frigates would provide work on the Clyde till 2035?

Harriett Baldwin

It puts paid to the idea that anyone can forecast a budget two decades out and get it down with pinpoint certainty, which is something I know the Scottish Government might also find difficult.

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