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Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 26 November 2014

2. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on shipbuilding on the Clyde. (906204)

First, I would like to place on record my congratulations to Nicola Sturgeon on her recent election as Scotland’s First Minister. I spoke to her on the evening of her election and made the point that Her Majesty’s Government here look forward to working with her and her colleagues in the way I believe the people of Scotland would want.

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues affecting Scotland, including shipbuilding on the Clyde, most recently last week with my right hon. colleague the Secretary of State for Defence, during which he reiterated his recent public statement underlining that complex UK warships are built only in UK shipyards. He plans to visit the Clyde again shortly.

I am sure many on the Opposition Benches would echo the comments about the new First Minister and wish her well.

The Secretary of State gave a slightly nuanced answer. I wonder if he will state categorically that the Type 26 frigates will be built, and perhaps he could throw some light on why the First Sea Lord felt he could make the comments that threw into doubt the proposals for those frigates.

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on finding nuance where absolutely none was intended. The First Sea Lord will, of course, speak for himself, but she will be aware that questions of contract are down to Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, and she will no doubt have seen, as other Members did, the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday making it very clear that that is where the orders will go.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision by the people of Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom has been exceptionally good news for defence shipbuilding on the Clyde, that defence is an extremely important component of the United Kingdom and that the prospect of more jobs arising out of the Type 26 global combat ship, for which I had some responsibility in the Ministry of Defence, should mean that there will be a really good assurance of jobs on the Clyde in Scotland?

Indeed, the efforts of the MOD—and I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend during his time as a Defence Minister—are exceptionally good news for jobs in shipbuilding on the Clyde. It is also good news for the Royal Navy, because that is where the expertise and the body of skills lie, so that is the best place for these ships to be built.

Are admirals self-employed? Whatever possessed the First Sea Lord to suggest that these ships would not be built on the Clyde? It is clear that separation shuts shipyards, not Scotland being part of the United Kingdom. Has the Admiral been keel-hauled or walked the plank, or would it be better if he was invited to meet the Scottish Affairs Committee?

Having appeared before the hon. Gentleman’s Committee on a number of occasions, I have a small suspicion that of the various options he outlined the last one is the least attractive. As I have said, the First Sea Lord will speak for himself. I have no doubt that in making his comments he felt he was speaking in the best interests of the Navy, but as I have said, the question of contracts is to be determined by Ministers, and the Secretary of State for Defence could not be clearer in his comments in this regard.

My right hon. Friend will understand that, as someone who lived close to Yarrows shipyard for quite a long part of my life, I have a particular attachment, and indeed affection, for the notion of shipbuilding on the Clyde. Will he accept that in the event that orders from the MOD are no longer placed, the impact will be not just on jobs directly associated with the construction of ships, but on all those companies on both banks of the Clyde that supply goods and services to BAE Systems?

Indeed, that is the case. Like my right hon. and learned Friend, I have my own family associations with shipbuilding on the Clyde, and I think we are probably typical of many in Scotland today. The truth of the matter is that if that business had been lost, which of course would have been a consequence of a yes vote, the implications would have been profound not just for those who are directly employed in the shipyards, but for the supply chain right across Scotland.

Will the right hon. Gentleman go back to the Defence Secretary to discuss concerns about slippage in the programme, in order to allay fears about exactly when the work is likely to come to the Clyde and to the work force whose livelihoods depend on it?

I can assure the hon. Lady that I have regular contact with the shipbuilding unions on the Clyde. I listen to their concerns and I hope that I can give them some assurance of the Government’s intentions. However, there must be commercial rigour in the laying of those contracts, and it would be inappropriate for the Government to make any announcements before that point has been reached. I do hope that we have all, on both sides of the House, learned the lessons of the past in that regard.

I am the MP for the Scotstoun yard on the Clyde, in which it has been said that £200 million is to be invested to turn it into a state-of-the-art facility. Given that thousands of jobs are at risk there, is it not time that the First Sea Lord was sacked for causing my constituents, the people who work in my yard, such worry? This is ridiculous and he should stand down immediately.

Perhaps I could just caution the House against getting too excited about the comments—or, indeed, the future—of the First Sea Lord. I cannot over-emphasise the fact that the decisions on those contracts are made by Ministers, and that those Ministers are quite clear that our complex warships are built only in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman should be able to give that assurance to his constituents.

The Scottish Government took action in the summer to secure the future of the Ferguson shipyard, the last remaining commercial shipyard on the Clyde. Given the doubts that have been cast over the UK Government’s commitment to bringing the Type 26 frigate contracts to the Clyde, will the Government publish the commercial principles agreement with BAE Systems, so that there can be transparency in the process?

Let us reflect for a second on what the hon. Lady has just said. There is no doubt about the commitment to bring the T26 ships to the Clyde. That is an absolute commitment—[Interruption.]

Order. The parliamentary leader of the Scottish National party is behaving as though he were a kind of pre-programmed computer with a monotonous yell. He should stick to sucking his glasses. We do not need to hear that. He wants to be a statesman, but that is not statesmanlike.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) behaves exactly as we all expect him to. We have come to expect no more of him than that. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) asked about the publication of the agreement. She should raise that matter with the appropriate Department.