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House of Commons Hansard
25 April 2016
Volume 608

  • (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Government’s plans for shipbuilding on the Clyde.

  • Before I answer the hon. Lady’s question, I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Captain David Seath, who tragically died after collapsing during the London marathon on Sunday. This was of course not an operational casualty, but given the interest that many hon. Members take in raising funds for charity through the marathon, as do many members of our armed forces, I thought that it was appropriate to start my response in that way. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.

    I welcome the opportunity to outline our plans for building complex warships. The Type 26 global combat ship programme is central to those plans. The strategic defence and security review restated this Government’s commitment to the Type 26 global combat ship programme. The ships are critical for the Royal Navy, and we are going ahead with eight anti-submarine warfare Type 26 global combat ships. The SDSR also made it clear that build work on Type 26 would be preceded by the construction of two additional offshore patrol vessels and that we would launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible, general purpose frigates. The construction of the additional offshore patrol vessels will provide valuable capability for the Royal Navy and, crucially, will provide continuity of shipbuilding workload at the shipyards on the Clyde before construction of the Type 26 begins.

    Nothing has changed since the publication of the SDSR, and over the next decade, we will spend around £8 billion on Royal Navy surface warships. We continue to progress the Type 26 global combat ship programme, and we announced last month the award of a contract with BAE Systems valued at £472 million to extend the Type 26 demonstration phase to June 2017. That will enable us to continue to work with industry to develop an optimised schedule for the Type 26 and OPV programme to reflect the outcome of the SDSR, to mature further the detailed ship design ahead of the start of manufacture, to invest in shore testing facilities and to extend our investment in the wider supply chain in parallel with the continuing re-baselining work.

    Overall, the SDSR achieved a positive and balanced outcome, growing the defence budget in real terms for the first time in six years, delivering on our commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence and, in the maritime sector, setting the trajectory for expansion of the Royal Navy’s frigate fleet. That growth in numbers will be achieved through the introduction of a more affordable light general purpose frigate—GPFF. The GPFF reflects a shift in the Navy’s focus and posture to delivering the strategic defence outputs of continuous at-sea deterrence and continuous carrier capability with our unique high-end warships: six Type 45 destroyers and eight Type 26 frigates. A large range of other naval tasks will be undertaken by the GPFF.

    To deliver the SDSR, we must improve and develop our national shipbuilding capability to become more efficient, sustainable and competitive internationally. To that end, we announced the intent to have a national shipbuilding strategy, and I am delighted that Sir John Parker, a pre-eminent engineer and foremost authority in naval shipbuilding, has started work as the independent chair of that project. I look forward to receiving his recommendations, which will address, among other things, the best approach to the GPFF build.

    I understand the strong interest in the timing of the award of the contract to build the T26 global combat ship, and I also understand that reports of delays create anxiety, but let me assure the shipyard workers on the Clyde that this Government remain absolutely committed to the Type 26 programme and to assembling the ships on the Clyde, and that we are working closely with BAE Systems to take the Type 26 programme forward, ensuring that it is progressed on a sustainable and stable footing.

    More broadly for Scotland, our commitment to the successor programme will sustain 6,800 military and civilian jobs there, rising to 8,200 by 2022. As the programme progresses, an additional 270 personnel will be based at Her Majesty’s naval base Clyde. Extending the Typhoon until at least 2040, and upgrading it with the active electronically scanned array radar, will benefit RAF Lossiemouth and continue to benefit Selex ES in Edinburgh. Our new maritime patrol aircraft will be based at RAF Lossiemouth, which is ideally placed for the most common maritime patrol areas and is currently used as a maritime patrol aircraft operating base by our NATO allies. This will also lead to significant investment, and our current estimate is for some 200 extra jobs in Scotland.[Official Report, 3 May 2016, Vol. 609, c. 1MC.]

  • Order. I am most grateful to the Minister for his words, but I gently point out that he took more than twice his allotted time. I felt that he had germane information to impart, so I let it go on this occasion, but I cannot do so on a subsequent occasion; there are rules in this place and they must be observed. In recognition of how long it took the Minister, the hon. Lady now has slightly longer, if she wishes to take it.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I, on behalf of the Opposition, also extend our condolences to the family of Captain David Seath?

    I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter in an urgent question, although I am deeply disappointed that the Minister had to be dragged to the House this afternoon to explain what on earth has been going on with the Government so far. The Secretary of State cannot be seen for dust. After three days of considerable uncertainty over the future of British shipbuilding, during which the Government have remained completely silent, the Secretary of State has, unfortunately, failed to clear the air. This is about a commitment to our Royal Navy and the national defence of the UK.

    As a maritime nation, it is bad enough that our Navy has had its surface fleet cut by a sixth since this Government came into office. We have been promised that at least 13 new frigates will be built, but if the timetable for delivering the new frigates has slipped, the Government’s promise to maintain the Navy’s fleet at its current size is put at risk. Can the Minister answer a simple question: will construction begin this year, in line with previous commitments? He claims that the orders for the new frigates will proceed as set out in the SDSR, but it says nothing about the timetable—and the timetable is vital. The unions are now being told that this could be delayed by up to a year. Is he saying that that is not the case? Does he also deny the claims made by unions that the start of Type 26 construction has already been delayed?

    The issue is not just about the Type 26 frigates. Over the past two years, the Government have repeatedly promised that all 13 of the Navy’s new frigates would be built on the Clyde—not only the eight Type 26s, but “at least” five lighter frigates announced in the SDSR as well. Can we have confirmation that that is still true today? What about the budget? There are rumours that the next two offshore patrol vessels will now come out of the same budget as the frigates, meaning that the overall budget is almost certain to fall—is that right? Has nothing changed, as the Minister says? If that is right, why has BAE Systems not denied press reports that there will be redundancies at the shipyards? If that is not the case, why are the unions being told that there will be redundancies? This is a matter of national importance for the United Kingdom. The future of hundreds of people in Glasgow hang on the Minister’s words this afternoon. Will he please answer my questions about delay, as this is a very important matter?

    The Government say that they are publishing a shipbuilding strategy later this year. We have been waiting 16 months, and we are now told that a chair has been appointed. That is good, but will we get the shipbuilding strategy this year, because, frankly, at the moment, it looks like a shambles? This is not the time for weasel words such as “optimised schedules”. We need clear-cut assurances from the Government that they will honour the commitments that they have made both to local communities and to our national defences. If they do not honour those commitments, this will be yet another Tory betrayal of Scotland, which the SNP will not be able to fix. Only a British Labour Government will be in a position to safeguard the future of Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry.

  • I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for your advice at the end of my opening remarks. I will keep my response brief.

    The hon. Lady is seeking to make party political capital out of a routine meeting between BAE Systems and the trade unions that took place last week and that happened to come nearly two weeks ahead of the election for the Scottish Parliament. As I said in my opening remarks, the commitment of this Government to the Royal Navy is crystal clear. We have a 10-year forward equipment plan, in which we will be investing more than £8 billion in surface ships. Where is her party’s commitment to the Royal Navy? What percentage of GDP will her party commit to spend on defence in this country? We hear nothing about that.

    Let me turn to the hon. Lady’s specific questions. She asked whether construction will begin this year. As I said earlier, we placed a contract last month for a further £472 million, which takes our contract on this programme up to some £1.6 billion. That is paying for equipment sets for the first three vessels; long lead items; and shore-testing facilities. The programme therefore remains on track. We have confirmed before, and I have done so again today, that there will be eight Type 26 frigates built on the Clyde. As I have said, this is a multi-year programme that extends beyond the equipment plan. The Type 23s will be replaced by a combination of the Type 26s and the new GPFF.

    The hon. Lady asked when the national shipbuilding strategy will be published. We have invited the independent chairman to ensure that his work is completed before the end of the year, and I fully expect that it will be. She asked when the timeframe for the general purpose frigates will be determined. As that is a principal part of the national shipbuilding strategy, the answer will be apparent once that strategy is published.

  • Since 1997, the total number of frigates and destroyers has declined from 35 to only 19. Does the Minister recognise that the lighter general purpose frigates could offer a great opportunity to reverse that decline in numbers and to create not only more platforms for the Royal Navy, but more work for the shipyards and possibly even export opportunities if the frigate is designed in the right way, which should be modular, adaptable and capable of being upgraded in service, rather than having all the accoutrements put on it from day one?

  • I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is very knowledgeable about matters naval. He is right to draw attention to the fact that the introduction of a new and lighter class of frigate raises the prospect not only of more surface platforms for the Royal Navy, but of more exports. As far as I am aware, there has not been a complex warship exported from Clyde yards to other navies around the world for some decades. This provides us with the opportunity, through the general purpose frigate and the additional offshore patrol vessels, to give the Royal Navy, in due course, a larger physical presence and therefore to reverse the decades of decline.

  • I am sure that those watching will be disappointed that this urgent question descended so quickly into a Tory-Labour bun fight. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), whose question exposed the revised timetable. The reply he received confirmed what we have suspected ever since the strategic defence and security review was published last year: that this Government are creating the conditions in which to betray workers on the Clyde once again. Earlier today, Scotland’s First Minister met the unions at BAE Systems, and they expressed their grave concern that the UK Government are set to renege on the promise they made, along with the Labour party, before the independence referendum, that there would be a steady stream of work coming to the yards on the Clyde, guaranteeing employment. Just three years ago, the Prime Minister said:

    “Scottish defence jobs are more secure as part of the United Kingdom.”

    Given that, can the Minister confirm today that there will be no redundancies at BAE Systems in Glasgow, and will he confirm that the Ministry of Defence will stick to the timeline that has been agreed and set out?

  • What I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman is that, had the independence vote gone the way that he and his colleagues would have liked, no warships would have been built on the Clyde, because the United Kingdom Government would not have chosen to build them there; we made that very clear. As it is, as I have just confirmed to the House, we will be proceeding with the construction of eight complex Type 26 warships on the Clyde as and when the programme is ready.

  • Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the shadow Defence Secretary’s refusal to commit her party to the NATO target of spending a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence is a threat not only to our national security, but to key equipment programmes and investment for the Type 26?

  • My hon. Friend is right to highlight that obfuscation on the part of the official Opposition. I draw to his attention the backlog of work ahead of shipbuilders in this country as a result of our equipment plan and our commitment to build the eight Type 26 vessels. No warship yard in Europe has the prospect of eight warships to look forward to. From that perspective, those working in those yards in Scotland can take considerable heart from the fact that they are working in our yards, rather than those elsewhere in Europe.

  • The Secretary of State for Defence has stated in the past that UK warships are only built in UK yards, but what percentage of the total contract value will flow to British companies, and what specific work will be given to the British steel industry from those contracts, with regard to not only the value of the orders in the supply chain, but the swift timetabling for the awarding of contracts, to help the beleaguered British steel industry now?

  • That is a good question, and I wish that I were in a position to give the hon. Gentleman a full answer. What I will say is that the vast majority of the contracts that have been placed thus far have gone to UK contractors. In relation to the systems and long-lead items that have been placed thus far, the contracts have gone primarily to BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce; in relation to the gearboxes, they have gone to David Brown. As far as the steel content is concerned—I know this is a matter of great interest to the hon. Gentleman—I have made it very clear previously in the House that UK steel mills will have the opportunity to bid for steel tenders that are put out by the prime contractor over the course of this programme. It will be up to the British steel industry to see whether it is in a position to match those orders for the specification and the timelines required.

  • Does my hon. Friend have any information on when the designation of the GP frigates will be confirmed? Will it be a Type 31, as has been rumoured in the press, and will it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said, be directed to exports? Will we be building it, or will we get ideas from outside on what the exports should be?

  • My hon. Friend pushes me to pre-empt the Royal Navy’s normal routine on the making of designations and, indeed, the naming of vessels—she did not ask about that, but I am regularly asked about it by colleagues in the House, who rightly like to express an interest on behalf of their constituents. I am afraid I cannot currently give her any comfort on the designation of the vessels. She is right to ask whether they will be designed with export prospects in mind. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, that is something we intend to look at, but the priority will be to meet the requirements of the Royal Navy, rather than of other navies, so the vessels will be designed to Royal Navy specifications, but with an eye on the possibility of exports to other navies.

  • Does the Minister have an estimate of the percentage of work on the frigates that will be carried out in Scotland? Has that changed over the last 18 months, and do the Government have an estimate of how many fewer shipbuilding-related jobs there would be in Scotland if the Scottish National party got its wish to carry out its obsession with taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom?

  • The hon. Gentleman is a doughty champion of English shipbuilding capability in his constituency, which is across the border from Scotland. I do not have a figure for him—he asked what would happen with the Type 26 programme in Scotland—but our intent is to build the ships on the Clyde, in Scotland, so I do not foresee any direct change from the position we were in last year. As far as his comment on independence is concerned, he is absolutely right that there would have been an enormous reduction in the jobs in Scotland had the Scottish people decided to follow Scottish National party advice and vote for an independent Scotland. [Interruption.]

  • Order. Some people need to calm down. Mr Blackford, you are an extraordinary individual; you do become very excitable. I prefer your cerebral side. If you feel you can find it before the afternoon is out, the House would be greatly obliged to you. I call Tom Pursglove.

  • Following on from the question from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright)—

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker—

  • Order. We can come to points of order later. I say to Carol Monaghan that I do not know what has exercised her, but we cannot deal with the matter now. We will have points of order afterwards, when I will happily hear her. [Interruption.] There is a certain amount of gesticulation going on. Members on the Labour Benches and the SNP Benches should calm down. I will come to the point of order at the appropriate time if it is still germane. Now, we must all unite in hearing Mr Tom Pursglove.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following on from the question from the hon. Member for Hartlepool, has any specific assessment been made of the impact of any delays in the programme, particularly on the British steel industry?

  • We have made it very clear that British Government procurement policies are being adopted by the Ministry of Defence. In all our contracts where steel is involved, we are looking to provide for contractors to ensure that British steel manufacturers have an opportunity to bid. In that respect, the only change is that there are perhaps greater opportunities since we implemented that new policy than there were before.

  • The workforce on the Clyde are highly skilled and motivated men and women, and I really do wish that the focus of the House this afternoon could be on preserving their futures and livelihoods, instead of on other considerations. With that in mind, will the Minister assure me that, between the end of the construction of the offshore patrol vessels and the start of work on the Type 26 frigates, everything will be done to ensure continuity, because it is in our national strategic interest to ensure that the workforce is maintained?

  • I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for focusing his question on that important subject, and I agree that the workforce on the Clyde are highly skilled; indeed, I make a point of meeting the trade union representatives of shipbuilders on the Clyde, and I did so last month. The short answer to his question is yes. The five offshore patrol vessels—three of which are in build, and two of which we added as part of the SDSR—do provide continuity between the Type 45s and the aircraft carrier blocks, as they finish being produced on the Clyde, and the beginning of work on the Type 26s.

  • I welcome the news of the new-build ships. We still do not have enough, but we are going in the right direction. May I ask that no HM ships currently serving be withdrawn before and until any new ship is built and commissioned?

  • I think my hon. Friend is referring to the Type 23 class of frigates. The Royal Navy’s intention is that the new vessels replace Type 23s on a like-for-like basis as they come out of service.

  • When the Prime Minister visited BAE in February last year, he stated that the contract for the Type 26 frigates would secure jobs on the Clyde for the next 30 years. The delays in this contract now threaten the very jobs that the contract should secure. Will he tell the workforce when they should expect to cut steel on the first Type 26?

  • I can tell the workforce that, as I have told their trade union representatives—I also said this to the hon. Lady when she visited me last month—we have a programme for the Type 26, the offshore patrol vessels and the subsequent general purpose frigate that will secure jobs for the shipbuilding workforce in this country, especially on the Clyde, for decades to come. This is the biggest shipbuilding forward programme we have had in this country for a number of years, and that should reassure the highly skilled workforce that they will have jobs for decades to come.

  • With quality jobs and apprenticeships being secured at David Brown engineering in Huddersfield, which is producing the gears for the Type 26 frigates, will the Minister assure me that as we move forward with the general purpose frigate programme the northern powerhouse will be a major part of that programme?

  • My hon. Friend is right to highlight the gear box work for David Brown, which, as I said earlier, has secured long-lead contracts last month. The benefit of the Royal Navy shipbuilding programme is not confined to Scotland; it affects constituencies right across this country, which is just as it should be. When contracts are placed, we will seek to highlight to hon. Members the work we will be providing in their constituencies for their constituents.

  • Amid the politics, perhaps the House could remember the estimated 800 families for whom, with their livelihoods at risk, this is a very worrying time. Will the Minister confirm that the promised investment in upgrading the shipyards will still go ahead?

  • I hope that some of the remarks I made earlier will provide some reassurance to the families of those who work on the Clyde. Part of the contracts we have already signed with BAE Systems will help to provide shore test facilities both on the Clyde and through the supply chain, so some investment is going into facilities. The overall level of facilities investment will be part of the overall contract, so I cannot update the hon. Lady further at this point.

  • Our Type 45 destroyers have world-class capability, but they cost £1 billion each. One of the reasons they cost more and took longer to build than we thought they would is that they kept being redesigned after construction had started, and we now learn that there have been major problems with the power plant. Will the Minister assure the House that these mistakes will be avoided with the Type 26 frigates?

  • My hon. Friend makes a really valuable point. There is no doubt that before starting the construction of a complex warship, it makes an enormous difference if the design is more complete than otherwise. He is right to point out that the Type 45 programme began with a less advanced design than the Type 26 will have, and we hope we are learning lessons from that. We have certainly learned lessons in relation to the power and propulsion, and we will have a different system.

  • As someone with the privilege of representing the Govan shipyard, may I first tell the Minister that a meeting between an employer and trade unions, with 800 jobs at risk, is not “a routine meeting” by any standard? I hope he will reflect on his earlier remarks. Will the Minister confirm that the original date for cutting steel for the Type 26 was May 2016, and will he explain the reasons for the delay? Finally, what message does the Minister have for the trade unions and the workforce on the Clyde, who view the national shipbuilding strategy with suspicion and as an attempt to reduce the role of shipbuilding on the Clyde? Are the fears of the workforce unfounded, or is that another betrayal that is still to come?

  • It is very unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman, who represents his constituents well—I have been pleased to meet him at the yard in the past—uses words such as “betrayal”, because that does not characterise what is happening. We are making commitments to build the Type 26 for several years ahead. I cannot, I am afraid, give him an update on the date for cut steel, as that will emerge from the programme work that is yet to be finalised. It is wrong to suggest that people should be fearful of the outcome of the national shipbuilding project, which seeks to put the rollercoaster ride of shipbuilding in this country in recent years on to a firm and stable footing so that there is clarity for the next decades. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, “That is what they think”, so perhaps I can help him by saying that the objective of the national shipbuilding strategy is to align the Royal Navy’s requirements, which stretch out for many years ahead, with the capability to maintain in this country the high-quality engineering skills that, at present, reside primarily on the Clyde in his constituency.

  • I very much second the comments made about the importance of using UK steel in these products, unlike in many recent Ministry of Defence projects. I want to ask the Minister two very specific questions: will there still be five general purpose frigates, and where will they be built—on the Clyde or elsewhere?

  • The hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see what emerges from the national shipbuilding strategy. The intent is that by having a more affordable design we are able to do some of the less high-tempo tasks that the Type 26 will undertake. That should allow the Royal Navy to have more than five frigates. I can confirm that the intent is to replace the Type 23s on a like-for-like basis as between the Type 26 and the general purpose frigate, with the potential for there to be more. He will have to wait to see what emerges from the national shipbuilding strategy with regard to the timetable and the location.

  • As ever at this time of year, there is much reminiscing over the UK’s defeat of Argentina. Given that that took a taskforce of 42 Royal Navy ships, does the Minister really expect us to believe that a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers is sufficient for a Navy with the strategic ambitions outlined in the 2015 SDSR?

  • I remind the hon. Gentleman that part of the strategic ambition is fulfilled by the two primary battlegroup capabilities: continuous at-sea deterrence and the continuous carrier capability. I can absolutely reassure him that the military assets in place on and around the Falklands are of an order of magnitude greater than they have been in previous times, particularly compared with 1982, so the notion of having to send a flotilla of the type that was sent at that time would not be required in the event of a threat to the Falklands today.

  • Shipbuilders on the Clyde are very skilled, as are those on Merseyside, and they share having experienced the threat of redundancy over many years. Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s now-delayed shipbuilding strategy, once we have it, will cover the supply chain in all parts of this country, wherever marine engineering skills reside?

  • The objective of the national shipbuilding strategy is to look at the manufacture of complex warships. As part of that, there are, as the hon. Lady says, significant capabilities across the country through the supply chain. We are not expecting a detailed review of all elements of the supply chain, but I take her point and will reflect on it in my conversations with Sir John Parker.

  • I asked in July about the building of Type 26 frigates, when it had been reported that the order process could be fragmented to bring to it what the Government called “realism”. With this uncertainty, exactly what kind of realism are the Government looking to bring? Does the Minister not think that the workforce on the Clyde deserve to hear, specifically and clearly, exactly what work will be available and when?

  • The hon. Lady will have to have a little more patience. The way in which major procurements of this nature take place means that it is not appropriate to set hares running or, frankly, to be alarmist about the prospects for individual companies or locations. Until such time as a contract has been signed, there is not the clarity that the hon. Lady seeks to achieve.

  • The 2015 SDSR gave an explicit commitment to the eight Type 26 frigates being built on the Clyde. Given that the workers at Govan and Scotstoun also heard that there would be 12 Type 45 destroyers, and then that there would be eight, before finally being given work for six, does the Minister wonder why the Clyde workforce are unsure about MOD promises? On that basis, can he categorically confirm that eight Type 26s will be built there?

  • The hon. Lady needs to speak to those who were in post when the decisions were taken to reduce the Type 45 class. That was certainly not done under this Government. We made it crystal clear in the SDSR that eight Type 26 global combat ships would be built on the Clyde. In response to the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), may I say that that is the reassurance that the workforce on the Clyde need? This is a forward programme, the like of which, during the past six years under the previous coalition Government, we had not been able to implement: now we can.

  • The Minister has spoken about the role of steel in the frigates and other key pieces of procurement that the MOD will be undertaking, but I was not particularly comforted by his comments on the role that procurement will play in this case. Can he confirm that local content and local value will play a key role when decisions are made about procuring steel?

  • As the hon. Gentleman knows—he may well have been an expert on the subject for a long time, but he is certainly something of an expert now—steel of the specification and standards required for naval warships is not available in many of the routine runs of, for example, plate steel provided by UK suppliers. That is why there have been different proportions of UK steel content in different types of military platforms. The offshore patrol vessels, for example, have a thinner plate than that which is currently available from any of the mills in the UK, which is why no UK mills chose to bid for the steel content that has been contracted thus far. I cannot tell him whether there is capability at this stage for the Type 26 steel requirements, but I have made a commitment that we will invite steel manufacturers to understand what those capabilities are and give them an opportunity to bid.

  • The Minister said earlier that he is still confident that the Department’s orders will provide job security for decades to come, but that will be of little benefit to anyone who is made redundant between now and when the Department makes up its mind what it is going to do. May I ask him again the question that he has not so far answered: will he give a commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies on the Clyde as a result of these delays?

  • All I can say to the hon. Gentleman and to the workforce on the Clyde is that we have, through the SDSR and again today, made a commitment to build eight Type 26s on the Clyde. That will provide work for the highly skilled workforce on the Clyde for many years.

  • There is a growing sense of anger and frustration on the Clyde, and many of those hard-working and highly skilled workers are starting to feel as though they have been used as constitutional pawns. What does the Minister say in response to the secretary of GMB Scotland, who said that the UK Government’s recent actions in the Clyde are

    “a total betrayal of the upper Clyde workforce”?

  • I find it hard to characterise a commitment to build eight complex warships on the Clyde as a betrayal. That is what we did in the SDSR and it has not changed.

  • Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, has today written to the Prime Minister saying:

    “The BAE yards on the Clyde require a cast iron commitment from your government that you will deliver the contract as promised, with the full scale up of the workforce without any risk to employment at the yards.”

    Will the Minister recommend that the Government reply positively to that request?

  • I am sorry to have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the risk to employment on the Clyde would have arisen if the people of Scotland had followed his advice and chosen to vote for an independent Scotland. Thankfully, they did not, and as a result hundreds of people are still working in shipbuilding on the Clyde.

  • In a debate such as this, language is extremely important. In his response, the Minister has stated that ships would be “assembled”, and, at one point, “constructed”. To clarify and put it beyond doubt, will he tell the House, and those in my constituency who work in the shipyards and those represented by my hon. Friends, that that will include fabrication, and that the process will be in the yards from beginning to end, not somewhere else?

  • I encourage the hon. Gentleman to spend a little more time in the yards on the Clyde to understand how components and systems are an integral part of the capability of building a complex warship. Fabrication is an important part, but much of the value and content comes from introducing weapons command and control systems, which are not built on the Clyde. Fabrication is done there, as is integration, and that will continue to be undertaken there.

  • On 4 April 2013, the Prime Minister said that Scottish defence jobs were

    “more secure as part of the United Kingdom.”

    Does the Minister realise how ridiculous that now sounds?

  • I have to repeat to the hon. Gentleman that we have committed to build eight Type 26 complex warships on the Clyde. Had the people of Scotland voted for an independent future, we would not have made that commitment.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. After a little time to simmer down, I hope that the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) has now acquired the poise, gravitas and serenity to which he should aspire.

  • Thank you, Mr Speaker, but perhaps, like the workers on the Clyde, we on the Scottish National party Benches are beginning gently to simmer. I reflect on the Minister’s words: he said that the demonstration phase is now going to continue to June 2017. Is the cat not now out of the bag—he is putting back the construction process? Why does he not give a guarantee to the workforce that their jobs are safe? We can all now reflect on what Better Together meant—duping the people of Scotland once again.

  • I am not sure that the simmering has really calmed the hon. Gentleman down. As I have said, we have made a clear commitment to build eight Type 26s on the Clyde, providing high-quality jobs. That would not have been the case had the people of Scotland voted for independence.

  • On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

  • Points of order come after statements, and there are a number of statements. That is the way in which we deal with these matters, and that is how it will be handled today.