HC Deb 09 December 1986 vol 107 cc168-70
7. Mr. Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to arrive at a decision on the size and timing of further orders for follow-on type 23 frigates.

9. Mr. O'Neill

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on future frigate orders.

Mr. Younger

Orders for three follow-on type 23 frigates were placed earlier this year. Decisions on orders for further follow-on type 23 frigates will be taken when appropriate.

Mr. Duffy

The Secretary of State must be aware that the orders that he has mentioned relate to last year rather than to this. Is he not aware that if further orders await priorities and availability of resources, Conservative Members will need to know, as my colleagues certainly know, that if the Nott tendency still lingers in the Ministry of Defence, the Secretary of State will not fulfil his objective of a proper age structure for a 50-ship surface fleet by the 1990s, which is only three years away?

Mr. Younger

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this year we have already placed three orders for frigates. It remains my intention to maintain a force level of about 50 frigates and destroyers, but the number of frigates to be ordered in any one year will continue to depend upon the resources available.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the appropriate time is now? We need those orders now to go into the 1990s with a 50-warship Navy. The constant procrastination by the Ministry of Defence is not good enough when workers are ready to build the ships and seamen are waiting for the opportunity to sail in them. The time is now.

Mr. Younger

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be more grateful than that for the three large orders that we have placed this year. The hon. Gentleman welcomed them when they were placed. As for keeping the 50-frigate Navy going and the new orders required to do that, we must weigh up the life of the frigates and the refit cycle and all the rest of it. That must be done in the context of the availability of resources at the time.

Mr. Hill

My right hon. Friend will realise that Vosper Thornycroft in Southampton, which for many years has been a loyal servant to the Government in warship construction, is in desperate plight. As it has recently been privatised, can my right hon. Friend say whether any orders may come to Vosper Thornycroft in the dim and distant future? I am thinking not only of type 23 but of the single role minehunter.

Mr. Younger

Some time ago I met some of the management of Vosper Thornycroft to discuss the company's problems. I assure my hon. Friend that this is an important defence contractor. It is the lead yard for single-role minehunters, and we shall watch its problems carefully.

Mr. Holt

Will my right hon. Friend take on board the fact that Harland and Wolff will be given additional subsidies which Swan Hunter will not receive and that this must be borne in mind when making decisions to place orders for type 23s?

Mr. Younger

I very much take my hon. Friend's point. I assure him that the extra auditing and monitoring procedures which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced when the order for the first AOR was placed at Harland and Wolff will be carefully adhered to, so that when comparisons are made between Harland and Wolff or any other nationalised concern and the private sector it can be done on a fair basis.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Will the Secretary of State admit to being economical with the truth? Would not a more candid reply be that the order for the type 23 02 has been placed with Swan Hunter, that 03 and 05 have been placed with Yarrow, that type 23 04, 06 and 07 have been dropped from the programme altogether, and that there will be no frigate orders next year?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman of all people should be more pleased than he appears to be—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—because Swan Hunter in his constituency has been given a special non-competitive order for type 23 02 and has also been given the offer of bidding for the second AOR ship when that comes along. Many other shipyards in the United Kingdom would like to be as well treated as Swan Hunter has been, and the hon. Gentleman should have said that.

Mr. Hirst

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that Yarrow on Clydeside, where much of the type 23 frigate development work has been undertaken, is one of the most modern and efficient yards in the world? Will he take this opportunity to remind the House that, following his announcement in the summer of two frigates for Yarrow, it has engaged in a multi-million pound covered development at the yard to build frigates on a more competitive and productive basis?

Mr. Younger

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Yarrow is a very important defence contractor. It is the lead yard for type 23 frigates, which will be the backbone of the 50-frigate Navy that we intend to keep.

Dr. Godman

What is the likelihood of one type 23 frigate being deployed in support of the two fishing vessels which will police the Falkland Islands fishery conservation zone? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those two aging stern trawlers will have to be replaced by fisheries protection vessels of the sort employed in United Kingdom waters?

Mr. Younger

We do not normally comment on operational matters, but I can safely say that whatever tasks the Royal Navy is asked to perform in the Falklands, we shall try to use the most suitable ships available for the task. The hon. Gentleman will realise that, as tasks develop, we may have to change the equipment available to deal with them, but we are ready to do that if necessary.

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