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Defence Manufacturing

Volume 535: debated on Monday 14 November 2011

17. What steps his Department is taking to support strategically important defence manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom. (80085)

The Ministry of Defence’s first responsibility when procuring equipment is to provide the armed forces with the capabilities that they require when they need them, in an affordable and sustainable way. The forthcoming White Paper will set out our approach to acquiring technology, equipment and support for our armed forces, and will explain how we will take action to protect our operational advantages and freedom of action where that is essential for national security.

I think that all Members will recognise the vital strategic importance of having defence production lines in the United Kingdom, as well as the importance of rebalancing the economy through modern manufacturing jobs, private sector jobs and jobs in the regions. What is the Minister doing to protect the skilled jobs and apprenticeships that are likely to go at BAE Systems in Brough? Those workers will find out on Boxing day whether their jobs are going to disappear. What is the Minister doing about it?

I have to disappoint the hon. Lady, because decisions about where redundancies fall must be made by defence companies and not by Ministers. I understand her concern about what has happened at Brough, and she will understand what BAE Systems said, in public, about the underlying reasons for the changes. [Interruption.] I can answer the sedentary question from those on the Opposition Front Bench by saying that the White Paper, which will set out our approach in more detail and will help hon. Lady to understand the issues more fully, will be published next month.

I fully understand the difficult balance that my hon. Friend is trying to strike between securing the best value for our forces and protecting key capabilities, but may I urge him to look carefully at French industrial strategy? When we are collaborating with a country that has an activist industrial policy, there is a real danger that our procurement policy will end up following French industrial strategy unless we are fully aware of what is happening on the other side.

Some Members may well find themselves in considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. Let me simply say that when I engage in discussions with my French opposite numbers, such issues are always at the forefront of my mind, and they will continue to be so—for instance, at the summit that is to be held in December.

The Minister will be aware that the global financial crisis is causing a number of nations to take defence work back in-house, partly in order to protect their own work forces. Others, such as Italy, are seeking to renegotiate contracts, which is leaving UK firms of all sizes open to potential job losses. The Minister’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) provided no reassurance that the Government were doing everything that should be done to protect British business overseas. In fact, what we heard was far from reassuring: it was about passing the buck back to industry. Will the Minister please reassure us that he will do all that can be done to support British industry?

With respect, the hon. Lady’s question is rather different from the one asked by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). When it comes to helping British businesses overseas, I think that this Government’s track record compares very favourably indeed with that of the lot opposite when they were in power, and I am happy to tell them that the reason the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth)—the Minister responsible for international security strategy—is not present today is that he is at the Dubai air show doing precisely that. Moreover, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Japan a couple of weeks ago, making the case for the Eurofighter Typhoon. We are doing a very good job speaking up for British industry overseas: a damn sight better job than the Opposition did.

One of the most important defence manufacturing businesses in the UK is BAE Systems in Warton, which is in my constituency and is the home of the Typhoon. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s efforts to support that world-leading product?

We are working strenuously to support the product, although I think that in many senses it speaks for itself. What we are doing is ensuring that the wider world recognises the outstanding performance of the Eurofighter Typhoon in the activities over Libya, where it has shown itself to be superior in all respects to every other aircraft in the world today. That is the message that we are taking to India and Japan, and that we are delivering in our many other export campaigns. I am hopeful that we will achieve success in many of them, for the aircraft certainly deserves that success.