BUSINESS QUESTION – TYPE 45 DESTROYERS – 27 April 2006

Dr Julian Lewis: The Leader of the House will recall the cutting of the frigate and destroyer fleet from 35 in 1997 to only 25 now, and the cutting of the replacement Type 45 programme from 12 vessels to only eight. Bearing in mind the report in The Herald today that there will be only six ships, rather than eight, despite the statement by the First Sea Lord that it was absolutely essential to have eight, may we have an urgent statement by a Defence Minister on whether this cut is going to take place? If that statement is to be made, should it not be made before, rather than just after, the local government elections?

[The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Geoffrey Hoon): Unfortunately, in my many years as Secretary of State for Defence – during which the hon. Gentleman was assiduous in asking me questions – I never managed to persuade him that the number of ships is not the critical factor. I know that he is fascinated by naval history, and he will know that the Royal Navy had thousands of ships in the late 19th century. That number was subsequently reduced to hundreds, and it is now much smaller. To that extent, there have been cuts. All I can say to him is that the ships that we have now are enormously more capable, and that the judgment on numbers is made in relation to the capabilities that the United Kingdom Royal Navy requires. That is a consistent process. It has not simply taken place since 1997; it has been going on for 400 or 500 years.]