Skip to main content

Fleet Solid Support Ships

Volume 722: debated on Monday 7 November 2022

The initial phase of awarding the contract for fleet solid support ships is due very soon. As that is market-sensitive, I will limit my response to saying that what I expect from whoever is successful is investment in our yards, in British jobs and in British supply chains.

As a reporter for Radio Clyde in 1979, I remember standing underneath the two ships built for the Polish navy as they were launched into the river—I needed to catch the sound effects. In those days, the UK and other Governments had tremendous pride in our shipbuilding industry, but the Thatcher Government devastated it. Why do today’s Tory Government not restore that pride? Why do they not commit, as the Secretary of State suggested, to building those ships in British yards, as the Labour party would do, to provide those 6,000 jobs that could benefit communities across the country?

I will certainly ignore the rewriting of history other than to say that we still take pride in the ships that we build in this country. Some of our ships are the very best in the world. We will continue that, unlike the Scottish Government, who seem to think that they cannot make their own ships in Scottish yards and make them in foreign yards.

I welcome the Minister for Defence Procurement, the hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) to his place. I know his constituency very well, having finished a distant third there in 2005. I have only warm memories of it. I pay tribute to him; we have worked together in the past on issues such as Down syndrome, which have affected us both. I look forward to continuing to work with him.

The fleet solid support contract presents a huge opportunity to the British shipbuilding industry, as well as providing a shot in the arm for British steel if the Government commit to building British by default. However, the GMB union has raised concerns that only significant parts of the build and assembly work will be carried out in this country rather than all the work. Will the Secretary of State address what “significant” means in the practical sense? If a foreign manufacturer wins the contract, how will our sovereign defence manufacturing capabilities be protected?

If the hon. Gentleman can point to a single complex military contract, whether in air, land or sea, that has not used international or partner supplier chains, I will be amazed. Typhoon, made in Lancashire, uses partners from Italy, Spain and Germany to create one of the most successful fighter programmes in the world. Our aircraft carrier, though entirely assembled in Rosyth in Fife, will have involved the use of foreign components.

Complex military machines that keep us at the cutting edge of the world involve international collaboration. That is the difference between us and Russia, which has the Stalin taxi factory attitude and ends up with rubbish equipment. We end up with the best because I have the duty of giving the best to the men and women of the Royal Navy. I will find a contract that delivers the best and supports the civil base and British manufacturing, but I will not cut corners for party political ideology from the Opposition.