The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 10 March.
“With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on behalf of my colleague the Secretary of State for Defence and shipbuilding tsar, concerning the Government’s refresh of the national shipbuilding strategy.
The United Kingdom is a great maritime nation and shipbuilding runs in our blood. At the turn of the previous century, Britain built 60% of the world’s ships and, although we are no longer the world’s workshop, our shipbuilding industry remains a global leader in design and technology. It brings in billions to our economy and spreads wealth right across our country. Today, our maritime manufacturers are responsible for the state-of-the-art research vessel the RRS “Sir David Attenborough”, and for constructing the most powerful surface ships ever built in Britain: the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.
More than 42,600 people from Appledore to Rosyth owe their livelihoods to our shipbuilding industry, but we still need to strengthen its resilience. It is worth reminding ourselves that even in the digital age, some 95% of UK trade by volume, and 90% by value, is carried by sea. Given this dependence, it is vital that we continue to safeguard our access to global maritime trade, even as we open up our sails and seek out new markets and new sustainable technologies. That is why, in 2019, the Prime Minister appointed the Defence Secretary as the shipbuilding tsar. Since then, he has been working tirelessly across government to make our shipbuilding sector more productive, competitive, innovative and ambitious.
There has been real progress. Not only do we have much greater cross-Whitehall and industry co-operation, but we are doubling Ministry of Defence shipbuilding investment over the life of this Parliament to more than £1.7 billion a year. We have committed to procuring a formidable future fleet, including up to five Type 32 frigates, alongside the Type 31 and Type 26 programmes. We will grow our fleet of frigates and destroyers over the current number of 19 by the end of the decade. We have launched a competition to build a national flagship—the first ship of its kind to be built and commissioned in Britain—and last September we opened up the National Shipbuilding Office, a pan-governmental organisation that reports directly to the shipbuilding inter-ministerial group, is chaired by the shipbuilding tsar and is driving transformative change across our organisation.
Today, I am delighted to announce that we are going one step further by publishing our refreshed national shipbuilding strategy. Drawing on the multitalented skills of the Government, industry and academia, and backed up by more than £5 billion of government investment over the next three years, the plan creates the framework for our future UK maritime success. It contains five essential elements. First, it radically extends the scope of our existing shipbuilding strategy. I may be standing here as a Defence Minister, but rest assured that the plan is as much about commercial shipbuilding as it is about the Royal Navy. We are focused not simply on hulls alone but on internal systems and sub-systems.
Secondly, we are establishing a 30-year shipbuilding pipeline of more than 150 vessels, thereby offering a clear demand signal in respect of our future requirements. We know that a regular drumbeat of design and manufacturing work is vital, not just to maintain our critical national security capabilities but to drive the efficiencies that reduce longer-term cost. We are not just giving suppliers confidence in industry order books; we are going to give them greater clarity about our requirements too. Today, we set out our policy and technology priorities, from net zero commitments to social-value requirements.
We are determined to ensure that our vast shipbuilding programmes leave a lasting legacy that goes beyond the procurement of a new vessel for the Border Force or the latest battle-winning warships, so we have made it a key requirement for shipbuilders to take account of social value, thereby ensuring not only that we deliver the capabilities that each department needs but that taxpayers’ money is used to maximum effect. We support jobs, skills and investment and will establish a new social value minimum of 20% for competitions for Royal Navy vessels.
Thirdly, our strategy will accelerate innovation, enabling shipwrights and supply chains to unlock new manufacturing, production and clean maritime technologies. In recent times, the automotive industry has blazed a trail in the field of sustainability, investing in everything from electric to hydrogen and ammonia fuel technologies. But domestic shipping accounts for more emissions than the bus and rail sector combined, so when it comes to decarbonisation, it is high time that we made sure shipping does not end up in the slow lane.
In 2019, the Department for Transport published its Maritime 2050 strategy, amplifying the power of UK maritime business clusters to foster a climate of innovation.
Last year’s clean maritime demonstration competition underlined the sheer depth of the sector’s potential, with 55 projects winning a share of £23 million to develop carbon-free solutions, such as hydrogen-fuelled vessels and shipping charge points powered by offshore wind turbines. Building on that success, we will now make the competition a regular event, creating more opportunities for industry to bring cutting-edge technologies to market.
Alongside that news, I can announce today that the Department for Transport—I am delighted to be joined by the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, my honourable friend the Member for Pendle, Andrew Stephenson—has committed £206 million to develop a UK shipping office for reducing emissions, or SHORE, which will fund research into and the development of zero-emission vessels and help to roll out the infrastructure that enables the UK to achieve its goal of becoming a world leader in sustainable maritime technologies.
Fourthly, shipbuilding is a long-term investment, and the more we can do to shelter it from market storms the better, so the fourth aspect of our plan is about providing greater financial support for shipbuilders to win orders. Access to finance for underwriting contracts is an essential element of any shipbuilding enterprise. Alongside banks and working capital loans, the Government also have a role to play in helping to finance vessel contracts.
UK export finance already offers credit facilities to support British companies winning work overseas. To make UK shipbuilders more competitive, we are bidding for orders for new ships from domestic customers. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is now working up plans to underwrite contracts for UK shipbuilders building ships for UK operation. BEIS aims to launch this new home shipbuilding credit guarantee scheme in May.
Switching to exports, opportunity is opening up for suppliers to increase their market share. In 2020, we exported £2.2 billion-worth of ships, boats and floating structures. We believe that we should be able to grow our exports by 45% by 2030. To make that happen, we are opening a new maritime capability campaign office. Covering all aspects of the shipbuilding enterprise, from platforms to sub-systems, to the supply chain, it will use robust industry analysis of global markets to help suppliers reach untapped markets. Our success in the long term will hinge on the strength of our skills base.
This brings me to the final aspect of our plan. We are determined to develop the next generation of shipbuilding talent, so today we are establishing a UK shipbuilding skills task force. Led by the Department for Education and working in tandem with the National Shipbuilding Office and devolved Administrations, it will bridge skills gaps and learn from best practice, particularly in relation to new and emerging technologies. Above all, it will act as a megaphone for the varied and exciting careers that shipbuilding can offer up and down the country, from designing cutting-edge environmentally friendly ferries to developing propulsion systems for complex warships.
The building blocks of our refreshed strategy are settling into place. Our NSO and maritime capability campaign office are up and running. Our UK shipbuilding skills task force is accepting applications from today, and, in the coming months, we will be establishing a new shipbuilding enterprise for growth. Co-chaired by the chief executive officer of the National Shipbuilding Office and a senior industry executive, it will unite the finest minds in shipping to overcome some of the sector’s toughest challenges.
In other words, today, we offer a powerful vision of what shipbuilding will look like in 2030. It is a vision of a supercharged sector with thousands of highly skilled workers; a vision to make this the country of choice for specialist commercial and naval vessels and systems, components and technologies; a vision that generates the increased investment to level up our nation; and a vision that will spark a British shipbuilding renaissance and inspire even more countries to seek out that “Made in Britain” stamp.
The framework is ready. Now we will be working with our superb shipbuilders, our supply chains and across government to help transform this great ambition into a prosperous reality. I commend this refreshed strategy and this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, the latest iteration of the Government’s shipbuilding strategy is overdue. Funding contained in it was first announced two years ago. However, it is welcome, and I am grateful to the Minister for coming to the House this evening to answer our questions.
The Defence Select Committee’s report last December highlighted how stretched the Navy’s capabilities are, with a danger that it will not be able to cope with the increasingly complex international security environment. It warns that an unexpected crisis could break it. It is vital that the Government do what is needed to avoid that dire outcome. The report urges collaboration with the UK shipbuilding sector by providing an assured pipeline of work and actively intervening to support the modernisation of yards to support the delivery of new vessels into an expanded fleet capable of fulfilling the ambition of the integrated review.
However, the strategy does not confirm the total number of ships the Royal Navy will receive. Can the Minister confirm today how many Type-32 frigates and multi-role support ships will be built and delivered? Does the “more than £4 billion” of government investment over the next three years cover any of the cost of the 150 ships in the 30-year pipeline to which the Statement refers? How much of this is new money?
Beyond this, there are two major problems with the strategy. First, why does the strategy not promise a British-built by default approach to procurement? This, as the GMB and Unite have highlighted, will kill investment and put UK jobs and skills at risk. A commitment to ensure that ships are built in UK yards, with targets for using UK steel, would build resilience in our supply chains and protect our security.
Steelmaking is a crucial component of our national security and our ability to act in our own interest. What steps will the Government take to improve the public procurement of UK-made steel in shipbuilding in order to preserve and promote jobs that are of vital importance to steel communities and the UK’s strategic independence? What is more, with foreign bidders supported by their own Governments, British shipyards are not even able to compete on a level playing field. None of this feels in line with the Government’s levelling-up strategy.
We know that a British-built by default strategy would create more jobs, but frankly, we do not know how many new jobs there will be a result of the strategy as it is. Can the Minister tell us? The Government seem to keep updating their excuses as to why we continue to procure from elsewhere, such as with a £10 million contract awarded to a Dutch yard last week. No other shipbuilding nation would act in this way. What the Defence Secretary has said is that fleet solid support vessels will be built by “British-led teams” following the decision to award the competitive procurement phase design contracts earlier this year. How is “British-led” defined? What percentage of the construction and manufacture of fleet solid support vessels will take place in British shipyards?
Secondly, the strategy does not tackle long-lasting issues of mismanagement and delivery at the Ministry of Defence. As it stands, no major shipbuilding programmes are rated on time or on budget by the National Audit Office. The number of projects rated amber or red is increasing. We know from previous experience how easy it is to underestimate both the resources and time needed for large contracts to be delivered. Can the Minister tell us what specific initiatives will be put in place to achieve on-time and on-budget outcomes? Moreover, while on the subject of contracts, I am curious about the minimum 20% weighting for social value that the strategy says will be applied for MoD shipbuilding competition. Can the Minister explain what this means in more detail? How will social value be assessed?
On a wider point, the strategy assumes a level of investment from the private sector into research, development and manufacturing. The mood seems to be that a forward-looking strategy providing a glimpse of the future to the sector will be enough to generate investment. I find this optimistic. Can the Government confirm their belief that the private sector will invest at the levels necessary without direct funding from Government? As I mentioned earlier, not having a British-built by default strategy makes this optimism even more farfetched. Is the Minister not concerned?
Those are my two main areas of concern, but I have some further questions on other aspects of the strategy. The strategy establishes the Maritime Capability Campaign Office within the Department for International Trade as the export arm of the National Shipbuilding Office. This will supposedly turbocharge UK shipping exports. Given that this has such a prominent role in the strategy, it is neither unexpected or unwelcome, but without a commitment to using UK materials and shipyards, it seems hollow. Can the Minister therefore indicate what role she expects exports to have in maintaining our shipbuilding industry? Without a commitment to using British materials, does she see the UK as simply a processing centre, to import materials from abroad and sell them on as finished vessels; or perhaps the idea is to contract foreign shipyards and then sell their finished products elsewhere, with the UK acting only as an intermediary?
Finally, with the Spring Statement now only eight days away, can the Minister confirm a big boost for defence funding, both to fulfil the ambition of the integrated review and to respond to the growing threat of Russian aggression?
My Lords, I agree with many of the comments and questions from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. It is obviously welcome to have this refreshed National Shipbuilding Strategy, but one might wonder what has happened to the ships.
We recently looked at the Type 45s. Before we get to the actual shipbuilding, ship maintenance and repair perhaps need to be thought about, so I have one very direct question for the Minister. How many of our Type 45s are currently at sea? How many are in dock? How many are seaworthy? It is surely important for the UK’s position in the world that we have ships available now, not in many years’ time.
In particular, I wonder whether this shipbuilding strategy is as ambitious as it needs to be. The Statement says:
“We have committed to procuring a formidable future fleet including up to five Type 32 frigates”—
as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked, how many are envisaged?—
“alongside the Type 31 and Type 26 programmes. We will be growing our fleet of frigates and destroyers over the current number of 19 by the end of the decade.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/22; col. 505.]
What does that actually mean? Will we have 20 ships by the end of the decade—an additional one? What sort of message do the Government think that sends to the international community? The Prime Minister currently says that he will lead activity against Russia. If we have only 20 ships by 2029—or does that mean 2030?—I am not sure that is terribly credible.
We have a quotation in the strategy from the Prime Minister:
“If there was one policy which strengthens the UK in every possible sense, it is building more ships for the Royal Navy.”
That is clearly welcome—as would be increasing the number of our troops—but, realistically, what are the projections for the size of the Royal Navy? How far do the Government plan for these to be British-made ships with British steel? How far do they really think any defence expenditure settlements will enable us to deliver on time? As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, pointed out, it is very rare for defence procurement to arrive on time and on budget. With the current rates of inflation, given that defence inflation normally rises much faster than ordinary inflation, what is the realistic prospect of our increasing the number of ships and doing so on time?
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their observations. Although their questions, quite rightly, are penetrating, I think there is an understanding that this is an exciting document. It is not empty, vacuous flim-flam, but a very serious, holistic approach to how within the United Kingdom we sustain and grow a prosperous indigenous shipbuilding industry. I remember that one of the first tasks I had as a Defence Minister, back in 2019, was to present to your Lordships the review by Sir John Parker of the 2017 shipbuilding strategy. I remember thinking at the time that the review document was exciting and visionary.
Coming from Glasgow—or coming from Renfrewshire, near Glasgow—and having personally visited Upper Clyde shipbuilding yards when they were on the brink, I do wish to pay tribute to the trade union movement operational at the time for its assiduous work in making sure that politicians understood what the threats and challenges were. They were well informed and persuasive and I thought they did a splendid job in persuading the political process that, back then in the early 2000s, we had to make a better job of how we approached shipbuilding. I know noble Lords will remember Kvaerner on the Clyde, which was completing one order when there was no certainty about where the rest of the work was coming from. As I say, I pay tribute to the trade union movement for its determined and resolute work to try to get greater sense to prevail.
That is why, stepping forward to what Sir John Parker did in 2019, I drew a deep breath of fresh air and thought that this was really going somewhere. I have to say to your Lordships that I think this shipbuilding strategy really does pick up the baton and run with it. What I see in here are the components for a serious, well-funded, well-researched, well-supported, buoyant, competitive shipbuilding industry within the UK, and we should all be heartened and encouraged by that.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the size of the Navy. As they are both aware, there are good things happening. For the first time in 30 years, unbelievably, we have two different types of frigate being built simultaneously. We are satisfied that the number of Royal Navy frigates will be sufficient, and we do not anticipate that number dropping below 10 this decade. That is because, in addition to the Type 23s currently serving, we will have the first Type 26s coming in, and we will start to see the Type 31s being delivered, which will all be delivered by 2028. I would observe to your Lordships that the level of shipbuilding investment by the MoD is hugely significant and puts flesh on the bones of this strategy. MoD shipbuilding will double over the life of this Parliament and rise to over £1.7 billion a year. That will certainly allow us to increase the number of frigates and destroyers beyond the 19 we currently have by the end of the decade.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked specifically about the Type 32. That is an exciting project. It is at the moment still at the concept stage, but it will be the first of a new generation of warships, with a focus on hosting and operating autonomous offboard systems. So that is a really innovatory, visionary concept. The early preconcept phase has commenced; the focus is now on developing the operational concept, and the procurement programme strategy will be decided following the concept phase, which has not yet been launched. I can confirm these ships will be UK-built, with the exact shipyard, obviously, still to be determined—that will be subject to commercial competition.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also asked about the Fleet Solid Support. It is an interesting concept. It will be either a sole British build or a consortium, but the predominant interest will be British. The noble Lord asked how that fitted in with levelling up and the union. I would say to the noble Lord that I was very interested to see the graphic depiction of the map in the document itself, because it gave one of the most visual confirmations of just how critical, right across the United Kingdom, shipbuilding is. It is not just the yards building the ships; it is the huge number of small and medium-sized enterprises that are in the supply chain for that activity. All that plays its role in levelling up and in adding value to communities, which can all expect benefit from the fruits of this strategy rolling out.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about the role that the private sector will play. As he will be aware from the strategy, there has been close consultation with the industry, as is absolutely right. We will establish a shipbuilding enterprise for growth, which will be an industry-based organisation, and we will learn from similar approaches taken in sectors such as the automotive, aerospace and space industries how to take that forward. The private sector has an important role to play in this but, as I say, it has been engaged throughout the refresh of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and is absolutely engaged on the vision contained in it.
It is also interesting to look at the definition of “shipbuilding enterprise” because it gives a good encapsulation of what we are talking about. For the purposes of the refresh:
“The term includes the design; build; integration; test and evaluation; repair; refit; conversion; and support of warships; commercial vessels; workboats; leisure vessels; systems and sub-systems.”
That is a huge range of activity, which, as I said earlier, reaches out right across the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about exports, which are an important component. As he is aware, in relation to the Type 26, we have had an export of design to Canada and Australia. It is important to acknowledge that this is an important departure from the old concept, where you designed a ship and built it so it was solely British and everything remained in the control of the British shipbuilder. The shipbuilding industry has recognised—Sir John Parker identified this back in 2019—that to have resilience and appeal to all sorts of markets, whether they are indigenous markets here or export markets abroad, we need to be able to create things that other people have an interest in acquiring. That is a really exciting development.
The Type 31 has already seen export success, with the announcement in September last year that Indonesia has selected the Arrowhead 140 design for its programme. The UK Government are working closely with Babcock on a number of other export opportunities for the Arrowhead 140; of course, the results of the Miecznik frigate programme in Poland were recently announced, so there is activity there. It is an exciting reflection of what shipbuilding is currently achieving and what the strategy recognises and can build on.
I referred to the defence funding settlement. Both the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, were interested in what lies ahead for defence. We have had the integrated review, the defence Command Paper and what most people regard as a very significant financial settlement for defence. We take nothing for granted. We live in the business of identifying and addressing threat. We have a very engaged Secretary of State who will, I am sure, be alert to how we do that and ensure that the funding is appropriate to whatever we need to deploy to address threat in future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked whether the strategy is ambitious. Again, I was struck by a section in the document on our ambitions for the shipbuilding sector. I will not read it all out but, when I read through it, I felt as though I had had a good glass of gin—I felt uplifted. Look at the headings: “green technology”; “productivity”; “skills”; “autonomy” —developing a domestic regulatory framework for maritime autonomy so that we can lead the way on international maritime organisation—and “exports”. There are a lot of ambitions in here. Perhaps the more pertinent question is: how do we know that we are achieving them? Again, I will not bore your Lordships with the detail but there is a series of metrics which would be a useful device in measuring how we are getting on.
The noble Baroness asked particularly about Type 45s. The power improvement project has been applied to HMS “Dauntless”. She has moved into the test and commissioning phase of her programme. All three new diesel generators have been run. Initial load trials have been completed successfully, and that is a precursor to the rigorous trials programme in harbour before returning to sea later this year for sea trials.
HMS “Daring” has moved to Cammell Laird. It arrived there in September in readiness for commencement of her PIP conversion, which will be carried out during this year. This is a process whereby, as each ship is done, we learn. The other Type 45s will come in depending on operational activities and commitments. They are hugely capable, much-admired ships and are regarded as significant members of the Royal Navy fleet. I think that is a positive picture, and I am satisfied that there will be a good story to tell.
I hope that I have answered all the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised.
My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, I convey to the Minister that, having had a conversation with him, he, like I, welcomes this refresh of the National Shipbuilding Strategy to the extent that it reflects Parker, because it takes a systems approach to these issues. To that extent, it is an energising read.
However, I know that my noble friend would think that that butters few parsnips unless we know when the ships will actually be ordered. The infographic that is figure 3 in the document—I know now how much the Minister likes infographics; I shall come back to figure 1 in a moment—refers to what is called the
“Decision point for future Capability”.
That means absolutely nothing. One or two of them stretch over 14 years. The questions that I think my noble friend would like me to ask are: when are these ships going to be ordered and what ships are going to be ordered on those dates, because that is really important?
Perhaps I may stretch the House’s patience a little to ask my own question. I like the infographic in figure 1 because it shows the extensive, comprehensive nature of this industry across the United Kingdom. The executive summary says:
“The shipbuilding industry supports 42,600 jobs right across the country and adds £2.8 billion to the UK economy. It supports a vast supply chain and skilled jobs around the country in both the civil and defence sectors and delivers world leading capabilities for the Royal Navy.”
That is really encouraging. It is a very comprehensive view of the impact on our economy that the strategy could have as it is refreshed.
The problem is that the National Shipbuilding Strategy which is refreshed is that of 6 September 2017. Let me read to the Minister from the foreword by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon. He said:
“Today some 111,000 people are working in the maritime and marine sectors in the UK, including in the shipyards, supplying the parts, or supporting the equipment that keep this great industry alive, from Appledore to Rosyth and beyond.”
What happened to those 70,000-plus workers within five years of the first strategy?
The noble Lord included a lot of material in his question, and I am not sure I can respond to it all. Let me pick up first on the important figure that he referred to, which is the outline of what shipbuilding will be for the United Kingdom over the next 30 years. That is a very healthy, refreshing and encouraging picture.
I appreciate that the noble Lord wishes to reflect the persistence of his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord West, in wanting to pin down figures. I have covered the timescale for the Type 26 and the Type 31. The noble Lord will be aware that the Type 32 is still in concept, but that will be an exceedingly important addition to the Royal Navy for the reasons that I described earlier, and they will be UK-built.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referred to, we will also be dealing with not just the fleet support ships but a multirole ocean surveillance ship and a multirole support ship—probably a number of these; these are the ships that will replace the landing platform docks and the landing ship dock auxiliaries in the early 2030s. We will be dealing with the future defence Type 83, which will replace the Type 45 destroyers. It will be a key part of the future of our air defence systems, and will provide wide-area air defence for the carrier strike group from the 2030s. In among all that is a miscellany of other shipbuilding activity.
The noble Lord will understand that I cannot be more specific about dates; it is impossible to do that when much of this is in the concept phase. He will understand that the plans are laid, the need is identified and the political resolve is there to order and deliver these ships.
My Lords, I shall do my best to follow the Whip’s instructions. I direct the attention of the Minister and noble Lords to page 29 of this glossy document. I am all for the British Navy getting as many ships as it is possible to provide. I work out roughly that something like 30 ships are promised on that page, but I also see that all this is to be achieved by additional funding of more than £24 billion over the next four years. Given the previous history of procurement of naval vessels in the Ministry of Defence, how can we possibly be confident that the ambition set out here can ever be achieved?
There is one act not of commission but of omission. Where is the reference to four Dreadnought submarines and 40 more warheads—the important nuclear deterrent? Where are they to be paid from if not from the general budget of the department? Once upon a time, they were paid separately, but no longer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr George Osborne, decreed that they must be paid out of the regular defence budget. Why is that not included to give us a more realistic picture?
I will take the last point first. The strategy is quite clear that it excludes the Dreadnought programme, I think for very understandable reasons. That is a separate, clearly identifiable programme standing in its own right. It has been budgeted for. The noble Lord is aware of the contingency fund, and that programme is proceeding.
As for the MoD’s ability to commission and procure the ships to which the noble Lord referred, as further described in the section of the strategy document to which he referred, these are all objectives within the MoD perspective. He will be aware that we have to renew the Navy; that is the systematic programme we have in front of us. I would have thought that some Members from Opposition Benches would be positively green with envy to see what has already been achieved and what the plans are. That all points to a very healthy defence maritime capability.
My Lords, our experience in Scotland suggests that Governments are not very good at building ships. There are currently more boats in the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet that entered service when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister than have been launched since the SNP assumed responsibility for Scotland’s ferries. Yesterday only 13 of CalMac’s 29 ferry routes were operating a normal service, and for once this was nothing to do with the weather. How will this strategy ensure that the failures we are seeing in Scotland are not compounded? How will this strategy help the island communities of Scotland?
I thank my noble friend. I think she and I would certainly echo the sentiment that the island communities in Scotland are crying out for help. She refers to what has been a very unhappy chapter for the Scottish Government in building ships, running essential ferry transport links to Scottish island communities—this being the responsibility of their wholly owned subsidiary, CalMac—and being responsible for the maintenance and renewal of that fleet. This strategy can only help because it provides the components for a prosperous, sustainable UK shipbuilding industry and, engaging as it does with the devolved Administrations, I hope that will enable the Scottish Government to be alert to what is available and to seize the opportunity of taking all help and support. My noble friend is right: there is an urgent need to improve what is a very sorry ferry transport situation in Scotland.
My Lords, I welcome the strategy announced by the Government and the Statement that has been made. I welcome the opportunities set out in it for yards across the United Kingdom to benefit, thereby helping to strengthen the union. Will the Minister’s department hold discussions with the devolved Governments and the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy about the potential for the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, with its glorious heritage and wonderful history, to benefit, also thereby contributing to the levelling-up agenda through the indirect jobs that the Minister has referred to?
Yes, and I say to the noble Lord that, of course, the strategy is a cross-government endeavour. It is being delivered by the National Shipbuilding Office, which sits within the MoD, but because it has been designed in partnership with industry to give UK shipbuilders and suppliers confidence to invest in people, facilities and research and development, its implementation will be led by the NSO and will reach across the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is anticipated that there will be engagement with the devolved Administrations, and I referred earlier to the industry-led shipbuilding enterprise for growth body. Between them, we can look forward to a much more cohesive consultation with the industry right across the United Kingdom.
I thank my noble friend very much for the strategy. Governments and MoDs have had many of these over many years. This has taken some seven years following discussions that Sir John Parker, Admiral Hine and I had, having built quite a few hundred ships, and having made mistakes and learned from them. It is now with us today. What is needed now is the funded plan to deliver a continuous, 30-year pipeline of shipbuilding across the UK—not cost-plus and not guaranteed if performing badly. That will allow industry to get to the right size, drive efficiency and become truly competitive. Authority, money, a plan and cross-party support for a modern digital engineering workforce can deliver. I finish by saying that I would like this country to remain the most powerful member of NATO in Europe, and I am dead against President Macron’s idea for a European army.
I thank my noble friend for his universally acknowledged authoritative comments on this. We all know that he has played a significant part in the development of the shipbuilding industry in the UK, for which we thank him. I do not think there is much appetite for a European army from the United Kingdom; we have as a cornerstone of our defence capability in Euro-Atlantic security our membership of NATO, and that is our primary obligation.
My Lords, if I may return to the glorious infographic—figure 1 of the National Shipbuilding Strategy—and wear my north-east hat very strongly at this point, the only north-east reference I could find in the entire document was a little star on the map, yet the north-east at one time was the great shipbuilding hub of the United Kingdom. What affirmation can the Minister give to the continuing shipbuilding work and ship repair work in the north-east and its desire to further expand for the future? Where does steel fit into that? I do not think the Minister answered the question from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about steel.
I say to the right reverend Prelate that figure 1, which is now assuming iconic importance in this discussion, is purely illustrative; it is not meant to be a precise geographical identification of every shipyard, but it reflects a broad spectrum, not just of shipbuilders but of the essential supply industry, which is like a set of veins reaching right out across the whole United Kingdom. The shipbuilding strategy, by its nature, means that there is no part of the United Kingdom where shipbuilding takes place that should feel excluded by this: on the contrary, it is included and is integral to what we are trying to do. I hope that any shipbuilding entity in the north-east will feel encouraged, will feel part of this and will feel that it wants to commit to this, with its industry partners, and engage with the Government on how this can all be taken forward. The right reverend Prelate will be aware that the Government currently try to help steel producers by producing an estimated pipeline of what steel orders may be and, in doing that, try to signal where manufacturers may want to be ready to investigate tendering for supply on a contract. I have already said that a number of ships are already committed to using British steel, but one of the technical issues is that not all types of steel are suitable for the particular type of ship being built, so there is the matter of finding suitable product.
My Lords, this refreshed shipbuilding strategy is heavily geared towards naval shipbuilding. Can the Government confirm my reading from it, that we have abandoned all thought of building what I would call ordinary cargo-carrying merchant ships in the future? If we are going to just concentrate on specialist vessels, that is all well and good, but we will not sell too many ships like the “Sir David Attenborough”, whereas ordinary cargo-carrying merchant ships often generate a lot of orders.
The noble Lord is probably better aware than almost anyone in the Chamber of the diversity of shipyard production in this country and the types of ships that the existing yards are capable of producing. The strategy is about not only sustaining and encouraging these shipyards and shipbuilders but introducing the resilience necessary to let them be flexible. He is quite correct that some yards may not be suitable for constructing particular types of ship, and that is matter for individual yards, but it may also be the case, as we have seen, for example, both in Govan and in Rosyth, that the two companies, British Aerospace and Babcock, invested in the infrastructure there because they actually needed to change the physical imprint of what they had to make it suitable for the production of the particular ships they were going to build. This is an opportunity for thinking outside the box and I hope the strategy will encourage shipbuilders to be innovative, be explorative and see if they can investigate what they can do in the future, even if they have not been accustomed to doing it in the past.