Scotland Election 2016

Defence Minister Philip Dunne: 'No change' to Clyde frigates plan

Govan shipyard
Image caption Unions have claimed 800 jobs could be lost at the Clyde shipyards if work on the frigates is delayed

The defence minister has said the UK government remains "absolutely committed" to building eight Royal Navy frigates on the Clyde.

Philip Dunne told the House of Commons "nothing had changed" since the plans were announced last November in a defence spending review.

Unions at BAE Systems, which owns the two Glasgow shipyards, said work on the ships could be delayed by up to a year.

Both the SNP and Labour have warned against "betraying" the yards.

Shadow defence minister Emily Thornberry said the government's defence strategy was in a "shambles", criticising the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon for not coming to Westminster to answer the unions' concerns.

"This is a matter of national importance for the UK," she said.

"The futures of hundreds of people in Glasgow hang on the minister's words this afternoon."

But Mr Dunne said the UK government's commitment to Scotland and the Royal Navy was "crystal clear".

He told the Commons: "Let me assure the shipyard workers on the Clyde, this government remains absolutely committed to the Type-26 programme and to assembling the ships on the Clyde."

He said the government was "working closely" with BAE Systems to ensure the Type-26 programme was "progressed on a sustainable and stable footing".

Mr Dunne also promised the successor programme to the build would sustain 6,800 military and civilian jobs in Scotland, rising to 8,200 by 2022.

The GMB union has claimed that 800 jobs could go at the Govan and Scotstoun yards if work on the eight anti-submarine frigates - which had been expected to begin later this year - is delayed.

In his statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Dunne confirmed that the demonstration phase for the Type-26 frigate was being extended until June 2017.

Workers on the Clyde have been helping to construct the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers, with the yards also due to complete two smaller offshore patrol vessels that were ordered by the Ministry of Defence to tide the shipyards over until construction on the new frigates begins.

'A question you've not answered'

The frigate contracts were first promised ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde was a key issue.

The government later announced it would order eight Type-26 frigates instead of the original 13 that had had been proposed.

Mr Dunne repeatedly deflected questions from SNP MPs over whether the reported delays would result in short-term redundancies.

Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard asked: "You said earlier that you are still confident that your department's orders will provide job security for decades to come.

"That, of course, will be of little benefit to anyone who gets made redundant between now and when your department makes up its mind what it's going to do.

"So can I ask you again, the question you've not so far answered - will you give a commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies on the Clyde as a result of these delays?"

Mr Dunne repeated his government's "commitment" to build eight Type 26s on the Clyde.

Image copyright BAE
Image caption The original plan to order 13 of the new Type-26 frigates was downgraded to eight in last year's defence review

Earlier, Scottish Secretary David Mundell was asked whether he could guarantee that no jobs would be lost at the yards because of any slippage of the timetable for building the frigates.

He told BBC Scotland: "We want to work with BAE Systems to ensure that they can put in place transitional arrangements that don't mean that there are job losses.

"I think the announcement of the offshore patrol vessels was a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to retain work on the Clyde."

Mr Mundell again insisted that there "wouldn't be any Royal Navy vessels being built on the Clyde at all" if Scotland had voted to leave the UK in the independence referendum.

He was speaking as Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and Scottish first minister, met trade union representatives at the Govan yard.

She pledged the SNP's support for the yards, and called on UK Prime Minister David Cameron to meet his promises to the industry.

'Promises made'

Ms Sturgeon said: "It would be an absolute betrayal if David Cameron was to go back on his word now.

"The SNP will always do our best to support Scotland's shipyards, to protect jobs and to ensure promises made to Scotland are kept.

"The SNP in government has worked closely with BAE and the trade unions to support the yard and we will give them our full support over the coming months."

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale called for clarity on whether there was going to be any gap between the current contracts ending and the work on the Type-26 frigates beginning, and whether an upgrade of the Clyde shipyard facilities will take place as promised.

Writing in the Daily Record newspaper, she said: "If the Tory government delivers anything short of what they promised then it will be a deep betrayal to the workers on the Clyde and their families.

"Before the election, the Labour Party was absolutely clear that we would meet the promises we made to the shipbuilding industry, and it's bitterly disappointing that we aren't in government now to see that promise through.

"As leader of the Labour Party, I won't play politics with these jobs and our shipbuilding industry. It's far too important for that. But I won't stay silent when people propose actions that would put a at risk - whether that's the UK government's delay or the SNP's plans for independence."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "There are serious concerns about the future of the orders at the yard and it's important that the Conservative government gives an absolute commitment to them.

"The Tories need to end the feast and famine of orders so the workforce can be maintained at a steady level."

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