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Naval Vessels (Orders)

Volume 14: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1981

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the anticipated orders of naval vessels by his Department.

I have nothing to add to the information contained in Cmnd. 8288. Future orders will be announced as they are placed.

Does not the delay in announcing the programme of naval orders bedevil the finances and planning of British Shipbuilders? Should we not now have a progressive system of ordering, particularly for conventional submarines and some surface ships?

I accept that the present uncertainty does not assist British Shipbuilders. I can only say that the decisions will be made as soon as we feel able to make them in the light of the prevailing economic situation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is uncertainty in the Royal Navy and that it is extremely important for its future morale and well-being to know that there will be a substantial ordering programme for new frigates? May we be assured that that point will be taken into account, as well as the interests of British Shipbuilders, worthy though they are?

I agree that the interests of the Royal Navy are at least as important as the other interests that have been mentioned. We hope to announce in the fairly near future the decision on the Type 23 frigate.

Will the Minister give more details about future orders? Does he realise that the present uncertainty makes it almost impossible for British Shipbuilders to undertake serious forward planning? He must have some idea of how many ships will be needed over how long a period.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I recently had the privilege of visiting the Woolston yard in his constituency. I told the management and the unions then, and I told the hon. Gentleman subsequently, that that yard must concentrate its efforts on the export market, which offers some very good opportunities. That must be the first priority there.

When does my hon. Friend expect the new Type 23 frigate to pass the design stage and an order to be placed for it? Secondly, when does he expect us to have 17 operational SSN nuclear submarine hunter-killers?

First, this is still at the design study stage. It will be a few more months before we are in a position to finalise it.

Secondly, as it is largely an operational matter, I should like to have notice of that question and to write to my hon. Friend.

As Harland and Wolff shipyard workers are in grave danger of being thrown out of work, thus adding to the colossal and unprecedented number of people on the dole in Northern Ireland, will the Minister ensure that an order for a Royal Navy vessel is placed with the Belfast shipyards, or at least that a sufficient number of auxiliary fleet ships go there for refurbishment so that jobs there, and indeed the yard itself, may be saved?

I am aware of a recent case relating to fleet auxiliary refits for which Harland and Wolff was invited to tender but did not do so. Nevertheless, the Government are acutely aware of the needs of that yard.