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Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier

Volume 632: debated on Monday 27 November 2017

HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to Portsmouth after a successful second set of sea trials. Her commissioning ceremony is planned for 7 December in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. The handover to the Royal Navy from the contractor is planned for the end of the year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is now a sense of urgency? Not only are we planning a global future for ourselves, which will require a greater presence around the world, but with the royal wedding coming as early as next year, and with the absence of the yacht Britannia, is there not a possibility that the new prince and princess will require something to sail around the seas?

I certainly was not anticipating that line of questioning from my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but he is absolutely right that this new class of aircraft carrier will give a powerful expression of national ambition and intent. They are versatile and agile ships and will be able to perform a wide range of maritime security roles.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government see the future of the Queen Elizabeth, when it comes into service, as an aircraft carrier and not as meeting defence cuts by replacing amphibious landing craft such as HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion?

I am delighted to confirm that we have not only one aircraft carrier but a second aircraft carrier, which is now structurally complete, at Rosyth. Of course, there will be adaptations to ensure that the carriers are able to support the full range of helicopters in our fleet, but we have absolutely confirmed that we will have a full range of maritime capabilities from these two remarkable and adaptable ships.

It will be essential that we have sufficient surface fleet to provide escort capability for the carriers. Will the Minister confirm that we will indeed have sufficient of the Type 31s and that, where possible, they will be made from UK steel?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To give just one example, today in Portsmouth one of the new Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability tankers has been commissioned into the Navy. There are six Type 45 destroyers. We cut steel on the first of eight new anti-submarine frigates, and we are running the competition for the Type 31e global general purpose frigate.

HMS Diamond recently had to abandon its operations because of issues with its propeller. This means that none of the £1 billion Type 45 destroyers, which have been riddled with issues, is currently at sea. Given the important role that they will play in supporting the carriers, what urgent action are the Government taking to remedy these issues?

There is of course a limit to what we can comment on with regard to the specifics of the situation, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that as part of our regular force deployment we will be regenerating that capability, and the Royal Navy is able to meet all its operational capabilities around the world.

Order. I gently point out to the House that although very engaging, the exchanges have been rather protracted, so progress is slow. There are lots of very important questions on the Order Paper that I am keen to reach, so let us try to speed up.