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Harriett Baldwin responds to defence debate

18th October 2016

Harriett Baldwin responds to a debate on the building Type 26 frigates on the Clyde.

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

Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) on securing this debate and for providing me with the opportunity to update the House on this important subject.

The 2015 strategic defence and security review restated this Government’s commitment to the Type 26 global combat ship programme. It was a positive strategic defence and security review for the Royal Navy, committing to an increase in the size of the service for the first time in a generation.

There has been a high level of interest in the programme since we announced our plans and I, along with ministerial colleagues, have consistently confirmed the Government’s continuing commitment to it. Let me once again reiterate that commitment. The Type 26 global combat ships remain critical for the Royal Navy and nothing has changed since last year’s strategic defence and security review. We are going ahead with eight anti-submarine warfare ships and all eight ships will be built at the BAE Systems shipyards on the Clyde.

We have backed up our commitment with significant investment as we continue to progress the Type 26 programme. We announced in March this year the award ​of a contract with BAE Systems, valued at £472 million, to extend the Type 26 demonstration phase to June 2017, enabling us to continue work with industry to develop an optimised schedule for the programme to reflect the outcome of the strategic defence and security review; to mature further the detailed ship design ahead of the start of manufacture; to invest in shore testing facilities; and to extend our investment in the wider supply chain to cover almost all the equipment for the first three ships.

Wayne David

I welcome what the Minister has said, but it is worth pointing out that so far there is nothing new in it. Will she tell us when the manufacturing start date will be?

Harriett Baldwin

I did not say that in updating the House there would necessarily be anything new, but I do want to reiterate the commitments that I have previously made.

The work will benefit suppliers across the country, injecting an estimated £200 million into the UK supply chain and sustaining 1,600 high-quality jobs, an estimated 600 of which—more than a third—are in Scotland. From Loanhead in Midlothian, where the helicopter handling equipment will be built, to Fleet in Hampshire, where communications equipment will be developed; from Dunfermline in Fife, where the steering gear will be built, to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), where the gearboxes will be constructed—this investment is good news for UK industry. Furthermore, we announced in July the latest commitment of £183 million to buy the maritime indirect fires system—the five-inch gun—for the first three ships. That takes our total investment in the Type 26 programme so far to £1.8 billion, which is hard evidence not only of our commitment to the programme but of real progress in delivery.

Chris Stephens

Like the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), I am guessing that we are not going to get a date for cutting steel this afternoon. Is it the Ministry of Defence’s intention to tell us the expected date for cutting steel on the Clyde before or after the autumn statement?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman is going to get a lot of interesting stuff from me this afternoon, so he will have to sit on the edge of his seat as I speak. I will give the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire three minutes to sum up.

A key focus of this afternoon’s questions has been the timetable for the programme and the building of the ships. The timing of the award of the build contract and the build schedule itself are key components of the ongoing commercial negotiations between the Government and BAE Systems. We are negotiating a deal that aims to optimise the Royal Navy’s requirements, in terms of the capability that the ships will deliver; to achieve value for money for defence and the taxpayer; and to deliver a build schedule that drives performance by industry. Those negotiations are continuing, so I am not in a position to give a specific date for when an agreement will be reached. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate that, to protect the Ministry of Defence’s commercial interests, disclosing any such detail would be inappropriate at this time.

Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)

The Government have given assurances to Lockheed Martin and those working on the F-35s in Fort Worth in America right through to the end of 2030, but they are totally unable to do so to the workforce at BAE Systems in Scotstoun and Govan to the end of this decade. Surely there is a mismatch between their commitment to British workers and their commitment to those in America.

Harriett Baldwin

With the greatest respect, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s statement. We have an incredibly ambitious shipbuilding programme in this country. In Scotland at the moment, we are building the two largest warships that the Royal Navy will ever take delivery of. The hon. Gentleman cannot complain in any way about the ambition of our shipbuilding programme in the Clyde; I do not accept that in any way, shape or form.

I want to touch on the national shipbuilding strategy, which was raised by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and others. I hope the assiduous Member for Strangford has had a chance to meet with Sir John Parker, who hails from Northern Ireland, as part of his review. He is a leading authority on naval shipbuilding and was appointed independent chair of the shipbuilding strategy. He will make his recommendations by the time of the autumn statement.

Jim Shannon

The Minister will be aware that Sir Mark Stanhope, the First Sea Lord of the Navy, attended the Defence Committee. He said that if we do not cut the steel soon, some very old frigates will be protecting brand new carriers and the strategic nuclear deterrent, and he warned that the Navy is in danger of not being able to fulfil all the requirements expected of it. The date is so important—can the Minister give it to us?

Harriett Baldwin

In answers to the House, we have disclosed the out-of-service dates for the existing Type 23 frigates. They are a matter of public record. Clearly, the acquisition of the Type 26 global combat ship will be crucial to the future of the UK’s shipbuilding industry, and will form part of the national shipbuilding strategy. The Type 26 global combat ship will form a key component of the future maritime force, but last year’s strategic defence and security review also considered more widely how it will replace our current in-service frigates.

Hon. Members will be aware that there are currently 13 Type 23 frigates in service with the Royal Navy. The eight Type 26 global combat ships will be built to replace the current eight anti-submarine warfare Type 23 frigates on a one-for-one basis. The capability currently provided by the five general-purpose Type 23 frigates will be met by a new class of light, general-purpose frigate that will, by the 2030s, enable us to increase the overall number of frigates. The programme to take that commitment forward is in its pre-concept phase and is a key part of the national shipbuilding strategy. I look forward to receiving Sir John Parker’s recommendations on taking the programme forward soon.

Brendan O'Hara

If the Minister is unable to give a date for when the steel will be cut on the Type 26s, will she at least confirm that the five general-purpose frigates will be built on the Clyde?

Harriett Baldwin

I have given the hon. Gentleman a range of dates for some of the commitments we have already made and some of the contracts we have already placed as a result of this programme, which sustain jobs across the UK.

The need to ensure we have the skills required to deliver Type 26 also came up in the debate. That is an essential factor in the successful delivery of the programme and is crucial to our strategic aim of placing UK shipbuilding on a sustainable long-term footing.

In the interests of time, I will quickly skip through the issue of offshore patrol vessels. We are looking forward to the delivery of HMS Forth—a ship of that class—next year, and HMS Medway and HMS Trent remain on track.

It is important to put the Type 26 programme in its wider context. Overall, last year’s SDSR achieved a positive and balanced outcome. We are growing the defence budget in real terms for the first time in six years and delivering on our commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. The SDSR enables us to invest £178 billion in new equipment for our armed forces over the next decade, an increase of £12 billion on previous plans. In the maritime sector, we have set the trajectory for expansion of the Royal Navy’s frigate fleet as we spend about £8 billion on Royal Navy surface warships over the next decade.

As I have explained, we continue to progress the Type 26 global combat ship programme. Hon. Members with constituents who work at the shipyards on the Clyde rightly emphasised the importance of the Type 26 global combat ship programme to the workforce. In response to concerns expressed on their behalf, the Ministry of Defence has consistently restated its commitment to the programme and confirmed that all eight ships will be built on the Clyde. There should be no lingering doubt on that point or on the idea that Royal Navy vessels would be built on the Clyde had Scotland voted to leave the United Kingdom.

Chris Stephens

The Minister mentioned the national shipbuilding strategy, which has to report by the autumn statement. I am going to ask the question I asked earlier: does she expect an announcement on the procurement of Type 26 frigates by the autumn statement? That would be helpful for my constituents.

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman is doing the right thing in representing the interests of his constituents. He is correct that the national shipbuilding strategy will report by the autumn statement.

Let me conclude, because I want to leave time for the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire. It is of crucial importance to the Royal Navy that the Type 26 programme delivers the capability it needs. Equally, for the taxpayer it is crucial to ensure the delivery of a programme that represents value for money for the scale of investment it represents.

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