A former Royal Navy chief today urged ministers to build vital supply ships in the UK to boost British industry.
Ex-First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West demanded the £1.5billion deal for three Fleet Solid Support vessels, which will restock Navy warships at sea, goes to a British consortium.
Unions, MPs and campaigners say the contract would secure 2,500 well-paid, highly-skilled jobs.
Speaking in the Lords, the Labour peer urged the Government to confirm that “a maritime strategy needs ships, the UK shipbuilding strategy needs ship orders and that building of military ships will be onshore”.
He added: “These three ships should have been ordered over three years ago.”
Former Security Minister Lord West, who commanded the Type 21 frigate HMS Ardent in the 1982 Falklands War, was among a host of peers to pile pressure on the Government to award the deal to a British bidder.
The 40,000-tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels will resupply Navy aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates with food, ammunition and explosives.
The competition for the contract was initially offered worldwide, with companies from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea shortlisted, along with a UK consortium.
The British team, backed by the Keep Britain Afloat campaign, includes Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
The tendering process was halted suddenly in November – raising hopes the terms could be reset to boost British firms’ chances of winning the deal.
But in August, the Ministry of Defence triggered fresh dismay when foreign firms were invited to take part in early plans to build the vessels.
However, both the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace have dropped strong hints in recent weeks that the deal could go to UK yards.
Accusing the Government of “dither and delay” today, former Labour Defence Minister Lord Don Touhig urged the Government to “get on with the job”.
Independent peer Lord John Mann, a former Labour MP, told the Upper House: “When it comes to building military assets, British workers are perfectly capable of delivering what is needed and British companies are perfectly capable, and they should be given the orders.”
Labour peer Baroness Pauline Bryan warned of the “long-term damage to people, local industries and the wider economy” if the deal went to a foreign firm.
She said: “Hopes have been raised and dashed countless times over the past few years.”
Defence Minister Baroness Annabel Goldie claimed the Government’s ambition was “to bring shipbuilding home”.
But she said: “It is too early in the procurement process to assess the value for money of building Fleet Solid Support ships in the UK compared to overseas.
“It would be inappropriate to comment in advance of a new competition.”
An update on progress of the deal would be given later in the autumn, she told peers.
“The criteria for assessing the FSS bids will be produced in accordance with Treasury guidelines seeking best value for money,” she added.
GMB union national officer Ross Murdoch said: “The process has already been beset by uncertainty and delays, and it’s deeply disappointing that ministers once again seem to be putting off crucial decisions on the timetable and the all-important procurement strategy.
“The Prime Minister says that he wants ‘shovel ready’ projects to make the UK a ‘shipbuilding superpower.’
“This is a perfect opportunity to build these warships in UK yards and maximise the use of UK steel and the wider UK supply chain.
“When you add in the multiplier benefits for the UK economy and the taxes that will be returned to the Treasury, it really is a no brainer.
“We need ministers to make a decision if we are to make the most of this opportunity and secure investment in the skills and apprenticeships that can deliver world-class military vessels here in UK yards.
“Thousands of jobs are at stake in shipbuilding communities.”