The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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.