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Defence: Type 26 Frigates

Volume 759: debated on Monday 26 January 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to place an order for any Type 26 Frigates before the General Election; and if so, how many.

My Lords, we are working positively with BAES to maintain momentum on detailed ship design, cost, technical integration, supply chain and shipbuilding on the Clyde. Our common aim is to achieve greater maturity in designing the capability needed by the Royal Navy while maximising taxpayers’ value for money. We expect to make an announcement before the end of this Parliament. We are planning to replace the 13 Type 23s on a one-for-one basis.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Interestingly, Japan is an island nation dependent for its existence on the sea, rather like the United Kingdom, but it does not run global shipping and is not responsible for 14 dependencies worldwide. It has just decided, in this very dangerous and chaotic world, to increase the number of destroyers and frigates in its navy from 47 to 52. Does the Minister think, in view of the fact that we have only 19 destroyers and frigates, that replacing the 13 frigates with the Type 26, bearing in mind that the oldest of them is seven years beyond its design date already, is very urgent? At the very least we should order long-lead items for those 13 now.

My Lords, it will be for the 2015 SDSR to consider how best to deliver the capability that the Royal Navy requires in the long term, but to ensure that the Navy gets the number of Type 26s and the capability that it requires we must be certain that we have a mature design and build programme before committing to an initial order size. I can assure the noble Lord that we expect to make decisions on some of the longer-lead items shortly.

My Lords, would it not be a good idea for some of these frigates to be built other than in Scotland, in view of the uncertainties surrounding that place?

My Lords, the Type 26 will be built by BAE Systems on the Clyde. Complex UK warships are built only in UK shipyards and we have no plans to change this. Although the contract has not been awarded, we have been clear that from 2015 the Clyde will be the UK’s only shipyard that builds complex warships.

Will the noble Lord tell the House what the incremental cost is of maintaining and refitting the Type 23s, which would not have been necessary had the Type 26 programme come forward on time? If the reason for the delay in the programme is lack of money, as I suspect, why on earth have the Government underspent in their defence budget in this Parliament—against a much reduced, severely reduced, some of us think irresponsibly reduced defence budget? The Government have underspent by nearly £400 million; the exact figures were given to me in a Written Answer the other day. Is that not a dereliction of duty, both to the country and to members of the Armed Forces themselves?

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord the figures that he requires, but I can assure him that we want to get the Type 26s and the capability that the Royal Navy needs, to get value for money for the taxpayer, and to have a very strong British shipbuilding industry.

My Lords, there are reports that the delays referred to by other noble Lords are due to arguments about the growing sophistication and weight of the Type 26s, which has vastly increased costs. BAE Systems originally put the weight at 5,400 tonnes, which has now risen to 6,500 tonnes. Fully loaded, they are expected to weigh 8,000 tonnes. Costs have risen by £100 million per frigate. Can my noble friend say what action the MoD is taking, following Sir Nick Houghton’s comment that there was,

“an expensive habit of over-specifying our equipment needs”?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. As an example, we acknowledge that there have been in-service reliability issues with the Type 45 destroyers’ power and propulsion systems. I can assure my noble friend that we have learnt lessons. We are addressing them as we take forward the Type 26 programme.

Can the Government indicate to what extent a decision to order Type 26 frigates before the election, and the number of them, pre-empts options on the future strategic role of the Navy under the 2015 strategic defence and security review, which has yet to be undertaken? Could the Government indicate their assessment of the extent to which there will be an export market for the Type 26 frigates and whether there have been any expressions of interest?

My Lords, bilateral conversations are ongoing with a number of international partners to explore opportunities for co-operation on the Type 26 itself, as well as on its design and on the systems that are planned to be fitted to it.