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Royal Fleet Auxiliary: Fleet Support Ships

Volume 644: debated on Monday 9 July 2018

3. What recent progress he has made on procuring fleet support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary; and if he will make a statement. (906314)

Since entering a four-year assessment phase in April 2016, the project has held three industry days. We have also undertaken a period of market engagement with UK and international shipbuilders. We formally launched the international competition on 5 June. Subject to normal approvals, our current intent is to award the contract in 2020.

Will the Minister finally give us a reason why the ships are being put out to international competition? Would it not be better if UK shipyards were block building the ships?

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s question. I have explained several times at the Dispatch Box that we have adopted the shipbuilding strategy in full. The strategy is clear about defining warships as a capability that will be built in the UK and non-warships as a capability that will be subject to international competition.

Will the Minister confirm that any weaponry installed on the fleet support ships will be procured from British companies?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The weapons element of any ship that is not designated as a warship will be procured from the United Kingdom and fixed on to the platforms in the United Kingdom.[Official Report, 12 July 2018, Vol. 644, c. 7MC.]

Given that every other European country that has shipyards and procures such vessels builds them in their own shipyards, why will the Minister not accept that the problem is not with Brussels or with European regulations but with Whitehall and its refusal to back British industry, British workers and British steel?

I reject the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. This Department and this Government have supported our shipbuilding industry to such an extent that for the first time in 40 years we have actually secured significant orders for the export of British-designed warships to Australia. The right hon. Gentleman should recognise that the shipbuilding strategy is working by ensuring that our yards are competitive internationally. Protectionism is never a friend to a long-standing, secure industry.

I agree with the Minister that the superb recent news of the deal with Australia shows that we can compete internationally in this area. Does he agree that it is still important that local yards get the chance to bid and show that we are still at the cutting edge in this area?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our shipbuilding industry, our businesses and our yards are fully engaged with the process, and they are confident that they can bring forward a successful bid. The key thing is that they will be bringing bids forward knowing that they are competitive on the world stage, not just being protected due to a “Britain First” policy.

I have just attended a good briefing by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), whose report is called “Growing the contribution of defence to UK prosperity”. On shipbuilding, will the Minister take the report’s recommendations seriously to help retain jobs in Rosyth in my constituency? My constituents need to know that prosperity means prosperity and that the contracts are coming home.

First, I extend my thanks to the workers of the Rosyth yard for their fantastic work on our carriers. Secondly, the report that has been produced about the contribution of defence to the prosperity of the UK is important, but I return to the point I made earlier: we have adopted all the recommendations of the shipbuilding strategy, and we are already seeing the results.

We on the Opposition Benches join the Secretary of State in offering our deep condolences to the family of Dawn Sturgess and express our full support for the police as they investigate this appalling incident.

This morning, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) published an important review titled “Growing the contribution of defence to UK prosperity”. The review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Defence. It cites the new Type 31e frigate as an example of how the MOD has started to take the prosperity of the British economy into account in procurement. If that can be done with the new frigates, why on earth can it not be done for the fleet solid support ships?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question but, once again, I refer him back to the shipbuilding strategy, which was endorsed on a cross-party basis. The key thing is that the Type 31e is a frigate and, as such, is designated as a warship. The fleet solid support ships are not designated as warships. We are very clearly following through the shipbuilding strategy, which we think will clearly improve the productivity of our yards and contribute to UK prosperity. The hon. Gentleman should do likewise.