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Torpedo Testing

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 14 October 2009

There are eight test and evaluation ranges in Scotland. Last month, I visited the firing range in the Uists. I have no current plans to visit the maritime range in the inner sound of Raasay.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He is obviously aware of the concern about the future consultation planned on the maintenance of the Rona torpedo and submarine facilities, which have played such a huge role since the days of the Heath Government in underpinning that part of the Kyle and Applecross peninsula and Skye economy. Will he give us an assurance that what happened in the Western Isles will be repeated when any consultation process kicks in and that ministerial visits, as well as full consultation with all elected levels for these areas, will be the order of the day?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is assiduous in raising this issue in the House and elsewhere, and I am certain that he will continue to do so. He is right to say that a consultation process in the Western Isles led to a rejection of the initial proposals. I can reassure him that our proposals for the Kyle of Lochalsh are at a very early stage. If any changes in the configuration at Kyle of Lochalsh were proposed, there would be an open consultation and all interested parties would be involved. I am absolutely certain that the right hon. Gentleman would be foremost among those interested parties, so I look forward to continuing our conversation.

Given that these torpedoes are being tested for the Royal Navy, does the Minister agree that if Scotland withdraws from it, there would be no need to have a torpedo testing range in Scotland?

In the world we live in, it is a fact that we need these weapons and that they have to be tested safely. It is in the nature of the modern world that, sadly, we need these sorts of ranges. The fact is that the only real threat to defence jobs in Scotland would be Scotland breaking away from the rest of Britain. [Interruption.] If Scotland left Britain, thousands of British jobs would leave Scotland, including the Western Isles, and that also means shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde and across the whole of Scotland. That also includes RAF bases—[Interruption.]

Order. The group leader of the Scottish National party must behave with due decorum in the Chamber—certainly if he wishes to be called.

Thank you for that intervention, Mr. Speaker.

The leader of the SNP in the UK Parliament must be the only MP in it who is campaigning for fewer jobs in his constituency. His unilateralist position would lead to the loss of hundreds of RAF jobs in his very own constituency.

The Secretary of State’s announcement, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, about the Uists was very welcome. Does he know why, since his visit, there has been renewed speculation in the press about jobs there?

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman’s belated interest in this issue. Of course, the initial plans have now been abandoned. There is no plan B whatsoever. Concern has been expressed by some workers, which is why I am delighted that the management and the unions are meeting a little later this week. We are very clear that the initial proposals were abandoned, that there is no plan B and that the jobs will stay. I repeat that it is very clear that the only danger to jobs on the firing ranges in the Uists in the Western Isles will come if the hon. Gentleman has his way and Scotland leaves the United Kingdom.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the work he did to safeguard the base on the Western Isles. May I ask how important the strong community and local authority involvement was in the discussions that he and colleagues in the Ministry of Defence had?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. It is important to put on record the excellent work of council leader Angus Campbell and others such as Donald John Macsween who did such a remarkable job in the Western Isles. The fact is that it was a community effort and a persuasive case was made. Ultimately, the Ministry of Defence would have made savings, but the costs to the fragile economy in the Western Isles would have been so dramatic that the UK Government took the view that we should not progress with the proposals.

Despite the Secretary of State’s comments about the ranges, they need modernising if they are to keep pace with the next generation of weapons systems, without which our forces will not get the weapons they need to do the jobs we send them on. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment today that his Department and the Ministry of Defence will continue to invest in those ranges while at the same time doing all they can to protect local jobs in that area? Will he also agree with me that—

Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I must establish the precedent once and for all that we have one question, and not more than one question.

On that basis, Mr. Speaker, I shall try to give one answer.

The hon. Gentleman has made the fair point that now that the ranges have been established and secured, they must diversify. It is important that they try to attract additional business, particularly from our NATO allies. But the economy of the Western Isles, especially on the Uists, cannot rely solely on MOD ranges in the long term; there must be more diversity, and renewable energy opportunities in particular must be taken up.