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Defence Exports

Volume 520: debated on Monday 13 December 2010

The strategic defence and security review set out our clear intention to increase defence exports as part of our enhanced defence diplomacy initiative. The principal purpose of such exports is to enhance our partnerships with allies, share UK ethos and doctrine, and generally promote the UK’s influence. They provide the additional benefit of helping to drive down the cost of equipment for Britain’s armed forces.

Ministers across Departments are already actively promoting the policy, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Officials in the Ministry of Defence and the Defence and Security Organisation, which is part of UK Trade & Investment, are giving invaluable support to Ministers and industry.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the enormous difficulties experienced by businesses such as Enterprise Control Systems in my constituency in securing export licences for the servicing and maintaining of equipment that they have sold abroad? Enterprise Control Systems makes world-class radio frequency inhibitors, but it is losing business because of the difficulty of obtaining credit licences.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the difficulties faced by the company in her constituency. I can tell her that she is not alone: other companies throughout the country are experiencing the same difficulties. It is very important for us to ensure that licences are dealt with promptly by the Ministry of Defence and its agencies.

Along with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who is responsible for defence equipment, support and technology, I will look into the specific points that my hon. Friend has raised. It would be helpful if she wrote to me.

Rolls-Royce, which is the largest employer in my constituency, plans to build a £100 million extension to its Barnoldswick site and to take on 100 extra workers if it wins the contract for manufacturing engine fan blades for the new F35 joint strike fighter. Is my hon. Friend able to update us on what the Government are doing to help Rolls-Royce to secure the contract?

I am acutely aware of the contribution that Barnoldswick in my hon. Friend’s constituency makes to Rolls-Royce, which is surely one of the extraordinary jewels in the United Kingdom’s engineering crown. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to Congressmen in both Houses on the Hill to emphasise our support for the F136 engine, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has had meetings with the head of Air Force Acquisition, Lockheed Martin and others. I assure my hon. Friend that this Administration are doing everything that he would expect of them to promote a great British product to the United States.

Of course we all want to see a successful defence industry exporting as much as possible abroad, but must there not be a bottom line, namely that we do not sell to corrupt countries or to countries that will use what they buy from us to oppress their own people? In that context, is it not important for us to ensure that exports of small arms—which often keep inflamed the battles and civil wars in Africa—are brought to an end?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to accept that we have one of the toughest export licensing controls for military equipment in the world. I yield to no one in praising the efforts of both the present Government and the last Conservative Government to ensure that, as far as possible, equipment has gone to the right people and not to those who would misuse it. We are, of course, governed by the law as well.

I entirely take the hon. Gentleman’s point about small arms, but unfortunately the world is awash with small arms, many of which do not come from the United Kingdom.

Even during these current difficult economic times, the UK’s defence export sector requires ongoing research and technology investment, but if we are to increase levels of exports in the defence sector, how does that square with the Secretary of State’s view, admittedly when in opposition, that US-UK interoperability is the key and he would intend to follow a much more pro-American profile in procurement?

Of course having a viable and successful defence industrial base in this country is very important; there is nothing to be interoperable with otherwise. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we place a high premium on interoperability, partly because we think it will help to drive down costs if our equipment is interoperable with that of other countries. The United States is, of course, our principal ally in these matters, and is likely to continue to be—provided, of course, that they are helpful to us when we need their help in supporting our industry.