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Defence Exports

Volume 522: debated on Monday 31 January 2011

As I reported to the House during Question Time on 13 December, we are supporting defence exports through an active and innovative defence diplomacy initiative, working closely with the UKTI Defence and Security Organisation. Exports help to build and enhance relations with allies, to support the UK’s defence industry, and to drive down the cost of equipment for Britain’s armed forces. Ministers and officials from across the Government, including my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, are already actively promoting British defence exports overseas.

Does the Minister agree that there is a real potential for increased defence exports and the increased jobs that they would bring to every part of the country? Perhaps he sees the Type 26 global combat ship as a perfect example of that potential.

The global combat ship frigate programme does indeed present a tremendous opportunity for the United Kingdom to put the policy into practice. I am delighted to say that we are in close discussion with the Canadians. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just returned from an extremely profitable visit to Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. All those countries have expressed interest in joining the United Kingdom in a collaborative programme that would have the benefit of bringing together not only members of the Commonwealth but some of our key allies, while also driving down costs for the Royal Navy.

Will the Minister tell us how he will protect the United Kingdom’s defence industry, as other Governments throughout the world protect theirs? Or will he be leaving it open to market forces, which will inevitably mean that our armed forces will be supplied by foreign Governments and companies?

The United Kingdom is the second largest exporter of defence equipment in the world. This is a fantastic opportunity that builds on the very strength of Britain’s defence industry, which is the second most successful in the world. It is that on which we are capitalising, it is that which we are determined to support overseas, and it is that which, I am pleased to say, commands respect overseas. Let us not knock it; let us support it.

At a time of necessary cuts in Government, some of my constituents would like to see the UKTI Defence and Security Organisation closed. What assurances are the Government given by our allies who receive defence exports that they will not use them to harm or, indeed, to intimidate their own people?

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman wants to see UKTI DSO closed. I can see a few Opposition Members whose faces reveal that they view that prospect with great alarm, as indeed do all my hon. Friends—as well as, I see, the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy). UKTI DSO is doing a fantastic job, but that job is not done in isolation; it is done in accordance with long-established law, under which we ensure to the best of our ability that we do not export irresponsibly.

I repeat to the hon. Gentleman, who clearly failed to understand the purport of my original message, that defence exports are not there simply to generate income. They are there to strengthen alliances with existing allies, and to promote alliances with new, important allies, in a very volatile world.