The cost and production schedule for the Type 26 global combat ship will be decided at the “main investment decision” point of the programme. Negotiations are ongoing with BAE systems to deliver a contract that will give value for money to both the Navy and the taxpayer. The general purpose frigate programme is in its very early stages. Decisions on build location and timetable will take advantage of the recommendations of the national shipbuilding strategy.
The Secretary of State is well aware that his Department promised 13 frigates on the Clyde in 2014, and a huge part of the Scottish independence referendum case for the Union rested on that promise. Given that the number has already dropped to eight, why can the Secretary of State not answer a simple question: when will the Type 26 design be approved?
There will still be a large number of new frigates, but there will specifically be eight new anti-submarine warfare ships, designed to protect the deterrent that the Scottish National party voted against just a few months ago. I hope that the timetable will be set out shortly, when the design continues to mature and the negotiations with BAE Systems have been completed.
Is it not a fact that BAE Systems is ready to start cutting steel right now, and all that is holding things up is a lack of funds in the MOD’s budget? If we do not start building these ships on time, we will doubtless end up with the same old story: we will drop below the already inadequate total of 19 frigates and destroyers, or else we will have to pay a lot more money to keep old ships in service for longer than they should be kept in service.
Let me reassure my right hon. Friend. We have already invested more than £1.8 billion in the Type 26 ship, and I announced a further £183 million in July for the guns to go on the ship. Much of the design work has been completed, but I am not prepared to sign a contract with BAE Systems until I am absolutely persuaded that it is in the best interests of the taxpayer and, indeed, the Navy, giving value for money to both.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the shipyards are in my constituency. The clear message from the workforce might best be conveyed by my paraphrasing Darth Vader: we want these ships, not excuses. Will the Secretary of State explain why, although the original timetable for the cutting of steel was May this year, it has not yet happened? May I ask him to speed up the process, so that ships can be built on the Clyde?
We would not be ordering any ships from the Clyde if Scotland had become independent last spring, because complex warships are only built in the United Kingdom. Let me be clear: this contract must be in the best interests of the taxpayer. I am aware of the need to sustain employment on the Clyde, which is why, last December, the strategic defence review announced the construction of two further offshore patrol vessels, in addition to the three that are currently being built on the Clyde.
Is it possible for the MOD to consider positioning Gibraltar as a home port for at least one of the Type 26 offshore patrol vessels, where the facilities are superb for them and they are in a very good position to operate?
That is a suggestion I will certainly consider. Gibraltar is a key base for the Royal Navy. I think last week we had two, possibly three, ships from the Royal Navy calling in on Gibraltar, and Gibraltar of course retains its affiliation to the Crown despite the recent referendum.