HC Deb 19 May 1981 vol 5 cc139-40
1. Mr. Dewar

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest estimated unit cost of a type 22 frigate.

Mr. John Nott

The latest estimated unit cost of a type 22 frigate, including fitted weapon systems and equipments, is £120 million at September 1980 prices.

Mr. Dewar

Does the Secretary of State realise that Yarrow (Shipbuilders) Limited in my constituency will face 500 redundancies this summer unless there is an order, the first under this Government, for a type 22 frigate? Can he give some hope to an area of unacceptably high unemployment that it will be spared a further blow? Will he perhaps lay to rest the irresponsible and horrific suggestion in the Financial Times that his determination to stick with Trident at the expense of the conventional naval programme might face us with the unthinkable—the closure of Yarrows altogether?

Mr. Nott

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall deal with the latter point during the debate. On the former point, I am conscious of the situation at Yarrows. I realise that it needs a shipbuilding order. The matter is very much in my thoughts. During the next few weeks, I shall be looking into it.

Mr. Henderson

Does my right hon. Friend think that the type 22 frigate is good value for money in assisting the Royal Navy to fulfil the vital task of protecting British merchant vessels wherever in the world they may be threatened?

Mr. Nott

I think it is likely that we shall tend to move more towards the building of cheaper type frigates than the type 22. There is, I believe, a widespread view, particularly in the Admiralty Board, that this is the direction in which we should go. This does not mean that we shall not have more type 22 orders. We are, however, tending to move towards cheaper frigates.

Mr. George Robertson

I recognise that the Secretary of State has expressed some concern over the delay in ordering further type 22s. The fact is that the 1980 Defence Estimates mentioned that these orders would be placed. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the implications for the productive capacity of British Shipbuilders of the continuing delay by the Government over the whole shipbuilding programme and the unnecessary confusion caused to British Shipbuilders over its future shipbuilding programme?

Mr. Nott

Yes. I am aware of the problems faced at the moment by British Shipbuilders with regard to the uncertainty that undoubtedly exists over the future warship building programme. I have talked to the chairman of British Shipbuilders, as have my senior officals, about the matter. I should like to be able to clear up that uncertainty within the next month or two. That is my aim.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the building of type 22 or any other frigates for the Navy would be helped best if Labour Members would stop making noises about cutting back on defence expenditure?

Mr. Nott

I have made an estimate of the approximate reduction in defence expenditure which would flow from the Opposition's amendment, which we shall be debating shortly. I estimate that it would lead to a reduction in defence expenditure of about £4½ billion. When jobs are considered against that background, I am clear that the Labour Party's defence policy, insofar as it has a defence policy—or one rather than several—would be a disaster for Britain.

Back to