DEFENCE – TYPE 31e FRIGATES – 6 September 2017

Dr Julian Lewis: Where warships are concerned, quantity is a form of quality because even the most powerful warship can be in only one place at any one time. I therefore warmly welcome the strategy, particularly its acknowledgement, in the section on strategic context, that:

“There is a need for greater volume in the destroyer and frigate force if we are to deliver the required operational flexibility.”

The Secretary of State mentioned the 1970s. He will know that in the 1970s we had as many as 70 frigates and destroyers. In the mid-1990s, we had 35 frigates and destroyers, and successive Governments incrementally ​reduced that to 32, 31, 25 and our current total of 19, which the Select Committee on Defence described as “woefully inadequate”.

My right hon. Friend is entirely on the right lines in saying that we need to grow the fleet. Will he do everything in his power to ensure that what happened to the Type 45 destroyers, and to some extent to the Type 26 frigates – as the build went on, they became increasingly complex and expensive so that we ended up with fewer ships at the end of the process – does not happen to the Type 31e?

[The Secretary of State for Defence (Sir Michael Fallon): The light, general-purpose frigate is specifically designed to avoid that fault, which, as my right hon. Friend said, has plagued previous programmes.

My right hon. Friend took us back to the 1970s. Perhaps only he and I now remember them and what happened then. I note his comments about the number of ships. I gently say that today’s ships are of course much more powerful than those that were involved in, for example, the liberation of the Falklands, and that although they can be in only one place at once, they can fight conflicts at different ranges at the same time.

It is my ambition to grow the fleet. We are expanding the Royal Navy. If industry can rise to the challenge and deliver the frigates to time and in the price cap that we specify, it will enable us to expand the Royal Navy beyond the numbers set out in 2015.]