PRIME MINISTER – WARSHIP CUTS – 23 May 2007

Dr Julian Lewis: For what reason the numbers of frigates and destroyers to be deployed by the Royal Navy have been reduced from the total set out in the 1998 strategic defence review?

The Prime Minister: As we said in the White Paper that we published in July 2004, we judged at that time that we needed fewer destroyers and frigates because of the reduced conventional threat and because of the improved technology of the new warships that are now coming into service. We are therefore putting more resources into programmes such as the future aircraft carriers and the Bay class landing ships, which will be vastly more capable and versatile than the ships that they are replacing.

Dr Lewis: That is indeed what was said in 2004, but what was said in 1998 was that we needed 32 frigates and destroyers. The warships then were just as technologically advanced as the ones referred to several years later. When it comes to believing the Prime Minister or believing successive First Sea Lords who have said, in and out of office, that we need 30 frigates and destroyers, I know which I would believe. The Prime Minister has cut them from 35 to 25. Will he now guarantee that he is not going to cut them further by mothballing another six frigates and destroyers?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman asks why the situation is different as between July 2004 and 1998. It is true that in 1998 we said that there should be 32 such frigates and destroyers, and in 2004 we reduced that number to 25, but we then increased the number or the capability of the alternative vessels.

Dr Lewis indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should wait for the answer before he shakes his head; he may shake it afterwards.

An hon. Member: He knows what he is talking about! [Laughter]

The Prime Minister: As a matter of fact, we are the party that has increased defence spending, whereas his party cut it by 30 per cent. The amount of money that we are putting into the new warship programme, which is huge and amounts to £14 billion over the next few years, is exactly the same as was predicated back in 1998, but we are spending it differently. That is change, and very sensible too.

[To view this exchange, click here, then move the sliding control to the 30:00 point.]