An influential MP has urged the Government to get a move on with a multi-billion pound plan to build new warships.
Julian Lewis, who chairs the Commons defence committee, claimed contractors BAE Systems were ready to start work on the Ministry of Defence’s new Type 26 frigates, known as global combat ships.
The clear message from the workforce can perhaps be best paraphrased by Darth Vader - we want these ships, not excuses,Chris Stephens
The project has already been cut from 13 to eight new ships, while a target to start cutting steel in May has been delayed indefinitely.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon told MPs he would not sign the contract until he was “absolutely persuaded that it is in the best interests and value for money for the taxpayer”.
Mr Lewis said delays to the project were the responsibility of the MoD.
“Isn’t it a fact that BAE Systems are ready to start cutting steel right now, and the only thing that’s holding things up is a lack of funds in the MoD’s budget?” he asked.
“The reality is, if we don’t start building these ships on time, surely we will end up with the same old story, that we will drop below the already inadequate total of 19 frigates and destroyers.
“Or, if we don’t, we’ll have to pay a lot more money to keep old ships in service longer than they should be kept in service.”
Sir Michael, responding to questions from MPs in the Commons, said the timetable for the project would be set out “shortly”.
He added nearly £2 billion had been committed to the project, with much of the design work completed.
“I am not prepared to sign a contract with BAE Systems until I’m absolutely persuaded that it is in the best interests and value for money for the taxpayer, and indeed for the Navy,” said Sir Michael.
There was also a mutiny over the proposals from the SNP, with this contract due to support thousands of shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde.
The project was promised by David Cameron in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish referendum.
Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West, has the BAE Systems base in Govan in his constituency.
“The clear message from the workforce can perhaps be best paraphrased by Darth Vader - we want these ships, not excuses,” he said.
Fellow SNP MP Owen Thompson (Midlothian) added that defence jobs were “plummeting” in Scotland, with 3,000 fewer uniformed and 23% non-uniformed jobs compared to 2008.
Sir Michael said he was aware of the need to maintain employment on the Clyde, with a further two offshore patrol vessels due to be built there in addition to the three currently being built on the Clyde.
He also said that RAF Lossiemouth had recently been chosen as home to a dozen new Typhoon fighters.
Sir Michael also came under pressure from Labour MP and Defence Committee member Madeleine Moon, who said the Navy was now smaller than the fleet that went to reclaim the Falkland Islands.
She also urged the Government to get a move on with Type 45 destroyer engine repairs, which are “desperately needed so that we can at least maintain the ships we currently have”.
Sir Michael, though, said Ms Moon was “confusing number with quality and power”.
He added: “The ships we are now deploying, the aircraft carriers, the Type 45 destroyers, the forthcoming type 26 frigates, are of course much more powerful than the ships that sailed to liberate the Falkland Islands.”