Yesterday in Parliament, Shadow Labour Defence Minister for Procurement, Wayne David MP, challenged the Government on the lack of strategy for Naval Shipbuilding. Speaking in the 90 minute Westminster Hall Debate, David criticised the delayed delivery of Government plans for the building of future war ships.
You can read the full text of David’s Speech below:
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) on securing this debate; it is on a very important subject and, as has been said, it has given us a first opportunity to discuss Sir John Parker’s important report.
I welcome the contributions of Scottish National party colleagues, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who showed his expertise in this area. However, it is a great shame—a crying shame—that there are no Conservative Members of Parliament present, apart from the Minister and, rather belatedly, somebody else who I think has come in for another debate.
It is a great shame that we have not had a full Chamber and that we have not all been able to debate collectively what is a fundamentally important issue for this country.
I will focus my comments on the situation regarding the strategy from the Ministry of Defence. My starting point, of course, is what the Government themselves declared in 2015 in their strategic defence and security review. They said that they were committed to maintaining a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers, and that they intended to complement that force with a new class of lighter and flexible general purpose frigates.
At that time, they correctly made the link between the need to develop our national security and the promotion of our domestic prosperity. The Government proudly announced then that a new national shipbuilding strategy
“will lay the foundations for a modern and efficient sector capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs.”
In the Budget of 2016, the Government proudly announced that they had appointed the eminent Sir John Parker to lead and write a national shipbuilding strategy, and it was promised that a report would be prepared and presented to this House in 2016.
However, there has been genuine confusion and I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify the situation. On 29 November 2016, we had a report from Sir John Parker, but it was not, as we had been promised, the Government’s national shipbuilding strategy. Many people thought that it was—some Ministers thought that it was—but it was not. Instead, we had an “independent report” on the UK’s national shipbuilding strategy from Sir John Parker.
My questions are quite simple. How did that metamorphosis take place; why did it take place; why is there confusion; what contact was there between the different Departments; and who is taking the lead on this issue? Those are very important questions about something as fundamental as the strategy for our future warships, which is not an issue that can be lightly dismissed. I echo what other Members have said: we would all like answers from the Minister about what on earth has happened and what on earth is going on.
Of course, Sir John’s report is very radical and extremely scathing about how things work, or rather do not work, within the Ministry of Defence regarding Royal Navy programmes. The report has a very interesting, informative and worrying chart about the length of time it takes for projects to develop to fruition. For example, Sir John points out that it was in 1967 that the conceptual start of the Type 21 frigates began and they were delivered nine years later. As for the Type 23 frigates, the conceptual start date was in 1978, but it took 17 years for that project to come to fruition. Goodness knows how long it will take for the Type 26 frigates.
Sir John asks why there have been such long delays. Why has this process taken such a long period of time? In some ways, the demands upon the frigates have changed. The world has changed and defence requirements have changed, but there is still that laborious project time before us. Why has that happened?
Sir John gives a number of reasons why the long delays have occurred. He makes 11 points. I will not go through all of them, but will just pick out some of the reasons he suggests. He says that there has been “A lack of assured Capital budget per RN ship series, subject to annual arbitrary change, with accumulative negative impact on time and cost with accompanying increased risk of obsolescence”.
That is very worrying. He also says that there have been “Poor linkages across the ‘Total Enterprise’ including industrial capability and capacity”.
He goes on to say: “Senior decision-makers have, previously, been engaged too late in the process and not always with high quality information and costing data”.
He adds:“The MOD has lost expertise in both design and project contract management”.
He says that there has been “Inadequate evaluation of risk contingency in each project”.
Those are some of the damning reasons why Sir John says there have been delays. I suggest that they are an indictment of the MOD, which really must sort things out once and for all regarding its procurement and governance strategy for warships.
Once the strategy has been written by the Government, when will it be published? I will not ask for the exact day or week, but will it be published in March, April, May, or whenever? We would like some sort of indication. Once it is published, we would like to know what sort of consultation there will be and how long it will last. I ask that because we want to have a full debate on every dot and comma of that important policy document.
I recognise that the Minister will not say very much about what might or might not be in that report. Nevertheless, I have a number of questions for her. First, will the Government sort out, once and for all, their procurement and governance systems for warship construction in this country?
There really ought to be a masterplan that should be reviewed at each SDSR, and as part of that approach there should be a partnership with both the industry and the trade unions. As Sir John has suggested, a shipyard trade union representative ought to be appointed to attend regular meetings, to enhance the transparency and efficiency of the processes that are under way.
Secondly, will the Government commit to working with their industry partners and trade unions to enhance the training and educational capabilities and facilities, so that there is the correct mix of skills and competence, particularly with regard to the new digital systems that are coming on stream?
Thirdly, will the Government commit to having a small but highly specialised virtual innovation centre to force through, among other things, advances in design, new materials and productivity improvements? As Sir John has argued, such an innovation centre is necessary if we are to oversee the new “global competitiveness plans”, which I believe the Government want to see being created.
Finally, will the Government commit to placing a greater emphasis on the exporting of British-built ships, as well as British project management, design, equipment and sub-systems? Will they not only engage in general rhetoric, but commit to specifics, as part of a great national effort to ensure not just that British-built ships are used for British defence, but that the expertise in this country is sold for the benefit of navies throughout the world?
You can the extracts of the full debate here.