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Defence Policy

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

4. If he will hold discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence to draw up a contingency plan for defence policy in the event of Scottish independence. (253062)

Is that not a rather irresponsible position to take, bearing in mind the fact that it is clearly within the rights of the Scottish nation to decide to leave the United Kingdom, and bearing in mind the significant role that the Scottish nation has played over the years in the defence of the British isles? Surely it would be responsible of the Government to have such contingency plans in place.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the defence footprint is significant in Scotland, where 17,000 service personnel and civilians are employed by the Ministry of Defence. The defence industry in Scotland generates about £2.3 billion. All I would say is that there has never been majority support for independence for Scotland. The fact is that the longer the Scottish National party Government are in power in Scotland, the greater the deficit in support for independence becomes. Support for independence in Scotland is, in percentage terms, in the mid-20s. There is not a mandate for independence, and it would not be appropriate to have such conversations.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. On the defence industrial strategy, will he take every opportunity to remind his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence of the huge Scottish and British asset right at the sharp end—the forefront—of manufacturing, namely Selex, owned by Finmeccanica? Aerospace and avionics are engineering sectors in which Britain still leads. Will he take every opportunity to remind his colleagues of the importance of that facility to our defence, our industry and all military procurement, including Eurofighter?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In Scotland, about 16,000 people are directly employed in the defence and aerospace industries, including in the areas to which he alluded. It is an enormous, important part of the Scottish economy, and it is a part of the Scottish economy that can continue to grow in the current economic downturn. It can fuel Scotland’s continued success in future years.

But in the past 12 years there has been a cut in service personnel, bases have been closed, regiments have been axed, and less than our share, in terms of population and tax contribution, is spent on procurement in Scotland. Those are the facts. Why should we put up with that? There is also the fact that Scottish service personnel were committed to illegal wars opposed by the people, and the fact that Trident was based in Scotland—a decision that was also opposed by the people.

I recently had the great honour of meeting the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Germany, and the whole House—certainly those on the Labour Benches, and almost everyone in the Opposition parties— would talk with great pride of the work that they did, in a remarkable, brave way, to defend democracy in Iraq. The fact is that if the hon. Gentleman had his way, there would be no Royal Navy, no Royal Navy aircraft carriers, and no Royal Navy jobs on the Clyde, in Rosyth or anywhere else. He and his policies are putting in jeopardy thousands of Scottish jobs in the manufacturing base, so it is no wonder that support for independence for Scotland continues to fall.

I speak as someone who gained from an apprenticeship in a shipyard in the west of Scotland. On shipbuilding, orders are being placed on the Clyde as a consequence of our having a United Kingdom, and that is resulting in more apprenticeships on the Clyde. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a good thing?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. There have been recent announcements about recruiting more people to shipbuilding apprenticeships on the Clyde. If it were not for Royal Navy orders for the Clyde area and other parts of Scotland, there would be no ships on which apprentices could learn their skills. I could not put the matter any better than BAE Systems did when it gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee: it said that without Royal Navy orders,

“There would not be a ship building business.”

If the Scottish National party had its way, there would be no Royal Navy orders because there would be no Royal Navy.

The Secretary of State clearly knows the contribution that RAF Leuchars in my constituency has made to British defence for a very long time. He has told the House of the total contribution of defence expenditure to the Scottish economy. Will he consider a study of the contribution that individual defence installations make to their local economy, to include RAF Leuchars and also, perhaps, Faslane?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point about the specific contributions made by RAF Leuchars and Faslane. I am aware that, for example, in Argyll and Clyde about 6,500 defence jobs are reliant on MOD work. On Leuchars, I am happy to discuss with him what specifically we could do to raise the profile of the work of the personnel there and across Scotland, but it is a matter that I would have to discuss in more detail with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

I thank my right hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for all the thousands of jobs for people in my constituency on the Clyde working on the Type 45 and, hopefully, soon on the carrier. Will he not listen to Opposition parties, one of which would have closed the Clyde down before the last election, and the other which supported it in order to try to get rid of a Labour Government? They offer nothing to help the workers in Scotland or the workers in the defence industry.

Again, my hon. Friend is typically correct when he talks about the importance of the shipbuilding on the Clyde that he and other Glasgow Members have championed for some years. Our armed forces are part of our shared heritage—that of Scotland and the United Kingdom—and the Government will do all we can to protect and preserve that for many years to come.

It is perhaps tempting to remind the House of the Scottish National party’s military adviser, Colonel Crawford, who once proposed chemical weapons as a cheaper alternative to the nuclear deterrent in Scotland. May I urge the Minister not to waste any time or money on making unlikely and unnecessary plans for Scottish independence, which would see the demise of the defence industry in Scotland, and may I remind the House that our Army is better because of Scottish soldiers, and Scotland is safer because of the British Union?

The hon. Gentleman is correct: Scotland is stronger because of the Union and the United Kingdom. There is remarkable pride and passion across Scotland about the enormous contribution made by Scots as part of the United Kingdom armed forces. We will continue to oppose plans by the SNP, of course. Much more important is the fact that the vast majority of Scots refute the suggestions from the SNP that we should break up Britain and destroy the UK armed forces.