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Fleet Solid Support Ships: Invitation to Tender

Volume 685: debated on Monday 7 December 2020

When he plans to issue the invitation to tender for contracts relating to the fleet solid support ships. (909788)

It is a pleasure to hear from the right hon. Gentleman. No one could ever accuse him of being inconsistent on this subject. I am pleased to assure him, as I have previously, that we will be commencing the competition in the spring.

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions has argued forcefully for defence orders to be brought forward to help our industry through the economic crisis, especially in our regions and nations. The Navy carrier group needs the fleet solid support ships, and the Department has the specifications from the previous bidding round. It is a project that is really shovel or welding-ready, so when is the Secretary of State going to get off his backside and start ordering these ships? [Interruption.] He may even want to intervene and answer himself.

I am most grateful, Mr Speaker, though the Secretary of State is raring to go.

Just to reassure the right hon. Gentleman, the specification has changed. It has changed because we now understand more about the carrier strike group and how we will deploy these important assets. It is on track, and we will get there. We have had two rounds of market engagement, and we may wish to do more market engagement. We have got a busy shipbuilding supply chain; there are a lot of orders going through. It is important that this is well based and well founded, and I want to make certain that we launch this competition successfully and, indeed, that it is concluded successfully.

The country has a vaccine for covid-19, and it will be rolled out as a matter of urgency to save lives. The Ministry of Defence has had approval for funding the defence industry. Will the Minister, as a matter of urgency, roll out the FSS and other shovel-ready defence projects now, not wait until to the summer, to give a real shot in the arm to the defence industry, and to retain thousands of jobs and create thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships for new technology graduates, as well as to support British workers and use the springboard of the British defence industry to lead the country out of this covid recession?

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the CSEU report on shovel-ready projects, which I commend. It is always good to have advice from those quarters, and indeed, many of them are already ongoing. I gently remind him, however, that the report praised the German Government for increasing spending by €10 billion to €12 billion over the next few years. It also praised the French—I think the French Minister has been asked to go before the Assemblée Nationale with an extra €1.5 billion, or around that number. That does not bear any comparison with our £24 billion investment in defence over the next few years. That is the biggest single boost to defence over the past 30 years, and it will mean a lot of orders coming through, to the benefit of British defence, the British armed forces, and British firms across the Union.