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Frigates and Destroyers

Volume 671: debated on Monday 3 February 2020

The Prime Minister has announced that the Government will undertake the deepest review of Britain’s security, defence and foreign policy since the end of the cold war. We remain committed to ensuring that the Royal Navy will have the ships required to fulfil its defence commitments.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. While I welcome that commitment, may I raise concerns that many are bringing to me—that at the minute we simply do not have enough ships to protect our two new aircraft carriers should they ever have to go to sea at the same time? Is it still the commitment of the Government to have two wholly UK sovereign deployable carrier groups to deploy at the same time, should we ever have to, while maintaining our other commitments overseas?

Although that has never been the policy of the Government, both aircraft carriers have been brought into service to ensure that one is always available 100% of the time. Although the precise number and mix of vessels deployed within a maritime task group would depend on operational circumstances, we will be able to draw from a range of highly capable vessels, such as Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates, and the Astute class submarines—and, in the near future, Type 26 frigates as well.

I associate myself with the words of the Secretary of State about what happened yesterday; our thoughts and prayers are with the emergency services and those involved. I also congratulate the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) on an excellent question.

The Secretary of State will not know that I am the son of a coppersmith in what was the greatest yard in the Clyde, John Brown’s—my own constituency office now occupies that land. I am very much aware of the vagaries of shipbuilding and the skills involved in it across the UK. I am heartened to hear what the Minister said to his hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, but I want to ask about Fleet Solid Support Ships—

Order. Questions should be sharp and punchy, because there are people further down the Order Paper.

Unless the Minister starts baying at me.

The Fleet Solid Support Ships have the ability to use skills and create work across yards not currently involved in the Type 26 or 31. Will the Under-Secretary assure me that he will maximise that public delivery by taking it across and then keeping it within the UK?

In November, the Secretary of State agreed that the Fleet Solid Support Ship competition should be stopped as it had become clear that a value-for-money solution could not be reached. The Department is now considering the most appropriate way forward.

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), does the Minister agree that it would be an unwise inefficiency for there to be too little protection for our aircraft carriers? Given that we have taken this important decision to project airpower, we must have adequate surface ships to keep those aircraft carriers safe.

Of course these assets of huge national importance must be properly protected. The Royal Navy will make sure that the required number of ships are available for exactly that purpose.

The issue is not just about the number of ships that the Royal Navy possesses, but whether they are operationally effective or not. From July 2018 to July 2019, two of the six Type 45 destroyers did not put to sea, and a third spent fewer than 100 days at sea. What will the Minister be doing to ensure that the existing ships are operationally ready?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and very much share the sentiment in it. Since being appointed in December, I have been more concerned by the number of ships tied up against walls in Plymouth and Portsmouth than by those at sea. The Secretary of State has made the delivery of more ships for the fleet his priority for the Navy.