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Defence Exports

Volume 533: debated on Monday 10 October 2011

Ministers and officials from across the Government continue actively to promote British defence exports overseas, led by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Last month the UK hosted the defence and security equipment exhibition, which served to showcase the best of the UK’s defence and security industries, and was attended by me and my ministerial colleagues. The exhibition—[Interruption.] Hold it. The exhibition afforded us the valuable opportunity of meeting overseas delegations and British and overseas companies.

I thank the Minister for that response, and particularly for drawing attention to an exhibition at which companies from my constituency were exhibiting. Will he join me in congratulating Britain’s defence industry, which remains the second largest exporter in the world and employs more than 300,000 people in the UK, and can he confirm whether the coalition’s policies on defence exports have seen any change compared with those of the previous Government?

I thank my hon. Friend for that very challenging question, because this Government have a great deal to be proud of, and one thing we have brought to the business of promoting defence exports is enthusiasm for helping our friends and allies to protect themselves in what is a very dangerous world. I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that in the past year the UK’s share of the defence export market has increased by 4%, which is no mean feat.

If the Minister is being so enthusiastic and it is all going so well, can he tell the House why British Aerospace has been forced to cut 3,000 jobs across the north-west and Yorkshire, citing the failure of exports as one of the principal reasons for its decision?

BAE Systems did not actually cite exports as being one of the problems. What it cited was the fact that it is a multinational company operating in a number of markets where there is pressure on the budgets—its principal market is the United States of America. It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s attention, but the US is looking to make defence cuts of $1,000 billion over the next 10 years, and that is affecting us all. However, the good news is that the fact that the US has to make savings means that it may well be more receptive to the sort of products made in his constituency and in others across the United Kingdom.

The Minister is doing an excellent job of promoting British defence exports. The purpose of a defence export Minister is to promote exports so that our industry will be reinforced and strengthened, thereby helping to defend the country. He will know that, as part of its strategy, BAE Systems intends to sell 350 to 500 Hawks to the USA, not one of which will be built in Britain, and that the company is, at the same time, closing a factory in my constituency, costing 900 jobs. Does he think that that is consistent with the Government’s strategy of trying to defend the British defence industry?

I was very grateful to my right hon. Friend for bringing the trade unionists representing workers at both Brough and Warton to see me at the Conservative party conference in Manchester the other day. I will tell the House what I told them, which is that we believe that the Hawk is a fantastic, proven training aircraft—I have had the privilege of flying it recently. As he knows, the new T2 has the most sophisticated onboard air-combat simulator. The company and I are working very hard, along with my ministerial colleagues, to impress on the United States that it already operates the T-45 Goshawk, much of which came from Brough, and I hope that it will be able to buy the Hawk. Although the aircraft is unlikely, in serial numbers, to be built in the United Kingdom, the company hopes that there will be real prospects along the whole supply chain for British industry.

I am sure the Minister recognises that one of our best engineering manufacturing sectors, which is world-leading as well as cutting edge, is the defence sector. Obviously, that brings with it the potential rewards of defence exports. Will he give a commitment that ongoing investment in research and technology will be linked closely to the scope to promote exports?

Exportability is a key component of all our procurement decisions; we are trying to build in exportability, not only to generate revenue, but to reduce the unit costs of the equipment to our armed forces. I can also tell the hon. Gentleman that we would not be having to make some of the difficult decisions that we are having to make had it not been for the destruction of the public finances by the previous Prime Minister and the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. If they had not destroyed the public finances of the United Kingdom, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not have had to make the difficult decisions that he has had to make.