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Type 26 Combat Ship

Volume 551: debated on Monday 22 October 2012

The Type 26 global combat ship programme is still in its assessment phase, and the timetable for the build programme of the ships will be determined at the main gate investment decision, currently scheduled for the middle of the decade. Build will commence to meet the current planning assumption of the first ship entering service as soon as possible after 2020.

When the carrier work ends there will be more than 200,000 tonnes of warship in Portsmouth dockyard, and 1,000 extra sailors—numbers not seen in my city since the 1950s. There will then be a two-year gap before work starts on the Type 26. Rather than pay more to stretch out those contracts to cover that gap and retain sovereign capability, would it be a better use of funds to build some much-needed ocean patrol vessels? Would, and when might, the Minister consider such an option?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Ministry of Defence has a terms of business agreement with BAE Systems Maritime Naval Ships. That agreement commits the company to maintain warship design and build capability, and elements of support covering all complex service warships in the UK. The Government continue to work with BAE Systems on the utilisation of shipbuilding capability once work on the current carrier programme is complete. As my hon. Friend knows, Corvette offshore patrol vessels are currently under construction by BAE Systems in Portsmouth for the royal navy of Oman.

I welcome the Minister to his new position. As he will know, there is a long and proud record on the Clyde of building warships for the British Navy, and a complex ship for the British Navy has never been built in a foreign country. Will the contract for the Type 26 ships contain a clause for the event of a vote for an independent Scotland in 2014?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces said, the Government are not currently planning on the basis that the Scottish people will vote in favour of independence in a referendum. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) is right to say that the UK has not built a complex warship outside its shores since the second world war, and I believe that the only times it did so during the first and second world wars were in then colonial territories for local use. The Government remain committed to using UK industry to build UK warships.

In the unlikely event that Scotland should decide to separate from the UK, the Scottish defence industry would be eligible to bid only for contracts placed by a future Scottish Government or competed outside the UK, or placed by the UK or other Governments. That is because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, many UK defence contracts are exempted from procurement rules for reasons of national security.

The Prime Minister told the House last Wednesday that the Type 26 programme is “fully funded”. How many Type 26 combat ships are fully funded, and when can we expect to see them in service?

The hon. Gentleman needs to be aware that the programme is currently in its assessment phase. A decision on main gate assumption is due to be taken in a few years’ time, and the build programme will roll forward from that point. The Government have made some assumptions in the equipment plan, which we will publish shortly, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to glean more information from that once it is available.