Skip to main content

Defence Exports

Volume 540: debated on Monday 20 February 2012

We have made exports a high priority and are supporting the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation through an active and innovative defence diplomacy initiative. I have recently returned from a successful visit to India where I led a delegation of some 25 British defence companies to promote the best that Britain has to offer. The White Paper “National Security Through Technology” published this month by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), reaffirms our support to defence and security exports.

Over the past few months we have heard much concern expressed about the Typhoon contract. Will the Minister tell the House a little more about the exports that he is working on so that buyers are not gulled into buying second-rate outdated equipment?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. It is important that we recognise that in the United Kingdom we are fortunate. We do not rely just on major defence companies such as Thales, BAE Systems and QinetiQ. We have a raft of medium-sized companies such as Cobham, Ultra, Chemring and Martin Baker, well known for its ejector seats, and those companies have a rich supply of high technology to offer other countries. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working hard to promote those companies as well.

However successful civil servants may be in trying to get defence exports, will the Minister reassure the House that they will not get bonuses in excess of what a colonel might make in salary every year?

I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for that extremely helpful and gallant question. If I may say so, looking at the shadow Secretary of State, that was a scheme set up by the current Opposition, who were then in government. It was a three-year scheme. They believed in performance-related pay and so do we.

There is a belief in industry that we will lose at least 30,000 jobs in the defence sector over the coming period. Although people in that sector applaud the Government’s stated export support, they fear that it has no substance if it is not backed up by a strategy, no matter what title the Government choose to use for that. There is not a free market. If the Government do not develop some kind of defence strategy, other nations will gain at our expense, as they are potentially doing in India with a product inferior to that which we have to offer. Will the Government think about the need for some kind of defence strategy, which they clearly do not have, despite what they say?

It is pretty rich for a former Labour Secretary of State for Defence to criticise us when his Government did not have a defence review for 13 years. We have undertaken that defence review and indicated that we have a strong policy of support to industry. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), has set out his White Paper in which we support British industry. This Government, led by the Prime Minister, have done more than any previous Labour Government to support British defence exports. That is a strategy. The 16 visits that I have made overseas are beginning to bear results. Just to give one example, BAE has sold three offshore patrol vessels to Brazil.

The Minister’s good friend the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has urged employers to give the nation’s unemployed priority for new positions. How exactly does that square with the Department’s White Paper, which states:

“The MOD does not consider wider employment, industrial, or economic factors in its value-for-money assessments.”?

Our job as Defence Ministers is to get the best equipment for our armed forces, but it is also true that we have a thriving defence industry, to which the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth)referred. There are some 300,000 British Defence jobs and it is important to ensure that while we have to make savings as a result of the appalling budget deficit that we inherited from the previous Labour Government, we give support to British industry to export their goods overseas. I have heard from British industry that it has never had such strong support from Government as it is getting from this coalition Government.