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Defence Spending

Volume 460: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2007

1. How much was spent in Scotland by the Ministry of Defence in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement. (135091)

Around £1.4 billion of the defence budget has been spent directly in Scotland in each of the past three years. That reflects the vital contribution that Scotland makes to defence, both in terms of the brave men and women who join our armed forces and the high-quality Scottish companies that provide the sophisticated equipment used on the modern battlefield.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to work out how much of that spending might be blocked by a political party that may be in government in Scotland and that has policies that are likely to prevent some of that vital work from being done in Scotland—[Interruption.]

Order. I see that I may have to keep a tight rein on proceedings today. As it is the hon. Lady, I will allow the question.

As ever, I will endeavour to keep my answer brief and factual. As at 1 April 2006, there were 13,520 regular forces serving in Scotland. The Ministry of Defence employs some 20,000 people in Scotland, including approximately 13,500 regular members of the armed services and 6,100 civilians, not including contractor personnel.

Has the Secretary of State made an assessment of the effect on all that military investment in Scotland if the party that came first in the elections succeeds in persuading the party that came last to overcome the vestiges of its principles and join a coalition targeted, as usual, against the military?

As he watched the Scottish elections from afar, I fear that the hon. Gentleman may not fully have appreciated the fact that two thirds of the Scottish electorate voted against separatism. Indeed, both the principal parties—my own and the Scottish National party—secured between 32 and 33 per cent. of the vote. Therefore, some of the more cataclysmic headlines that have been written in recent days do not reflect the overwhelming consensus still in Scotland that we are proud to remain part of the United Kingdom.

May I inform the Secretary of State that for the past 40 years defence has been an integral part of the economy of my area? In the past three years, more than £300 million has been put into the local economy each year. With direct and indirect jobs at the Clyde naval base, we have more than 10,000 jobs. While words may come easy to some people, we cannot play fast and loose with people’s jobs. Defence is an important part of our area and may it continue to be so.

Her Majesty’s naval base on the Clyde, which incorporates the Faslane base, is one of the main naval bases in the United Kingdom and the headquarters of the Royal Navy in Scotland. I am sure that it will continue to have a strong future based on the Clyde and serving the defence interests not only of Scotland, but of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that there are less service jobs in Scotland, less bases in Scotland, less shipbuilding jobs in Scotland—[Hon. Members: “Fewer.”]—and fewer Scottish regiments than when Labour came to power?

Obviously our forces have to reflect the nature of the challenges that the country faces at any point. I am not convinced that the alternatives that were offered in recent weeks in Scotland would produce a better future for Scottish regiments or—certainly—for Scottish shipbuilding.

How many jobs does the Secretary of State believe would be created in Scotland by the construction of two aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, and how many aircraft carriers would be needed by an independent Scotland?

I shall not indulge in answering the second, hypothetical question because, as I have said, Scottish voters once again overwhelmingly rejected independence only last week. On the first question, it is the case that significant opportunities in shipbuilding and refitting will arise not only from the potential orders for the Royal Navy aircraft carriers but from the pre-existing programme of work, which has brought new life to the Yarrow yard and will do the same for the Rosyth base in the east of Scotland.

Given that defence is just one of the issues on which the new Scottish Executive will have to work with the UK Government, does the Secretary of State regret his complacency in not putting in place proper mechanisms for interaction between the Scottish Executive and the UK Government? Perhaps he can tell us now just what will happen when the prospective First Minister and his Lib Dem allies, in or out of coalition, seek to thwart the upgrade of Trident.

The hon. Gentleman’s question shows the risks involved in preparing a question ahead of events. He has repeated it many times in the past, I will give him that much, but it would be unwise of me to prejudge the appropriate conversations taking place between all the parties that failed to secure a majority in last week’s Scottish elections.

It is clear from that answer that no proper mechanisms are in place to enable the Scottish Executive to work with the UK Government when those bodies are led by parties of different persuasions. The Government have had eight years to put such a mechanism in place, and the fact that they have failed to do so is a reflection on them. Will the Secretary of State clarify what will be his Government’s relationship with the prospective new First Minister—