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Defence Science and Technology

Volume 540: debated on Monday 20 February 2012

At the beginning of this month, I was pleased to see published our White Paper “National Security Through Technology”, which emphasised the contribution that using, sustaining and developing technology makes to our national security. The Government are therefore prioritising investment in defence science and technology. The White Paper makes clear our intention to end a long period of declining budgets and maintain the Ministry of Defence’s investment in science and technology at a minimum of 1.2% of the defence budget as protection for our future.

Before asking my supplementary question, I would like to pay tribute to my constituent Corporal Jay Baldwin, who was recently seriously injured while serving in Afghanistan and who is now being treated in the Queen Elizabeth hospital at Edgbaston. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending him and his family our best wishes.

How does the Minister believe that investment in science and technology supports not only our defence industry but our economy and companies such as Thales UK in my constituency?

I obviously join my hon. Friend in his tribute to his constituent and hope that he makes a rapid and full recovery.

Of course, investment in science and technology is about not just industry but protecting and securing our troops, and I am glad to say that we are having phenomenal success in that regard in Afghanistan. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that Thales is one of the many companies and trade organisations that welcomed the White Paper when it was published earlier this month. They recognise that investment in science and technology is crucial for their future as successful, enterprising and competitive companies operating here in the UK. Perhaps one of the most exciting recent examples of the importance of that investment was the four-year £40 million future combat air systems focused research contract, which we announced in December. It will generate capability for the future and provide important work for the high-tech advanced manufacturing businesses of the UK.

What emphasis is the Department placing on the development of unmanned air reconnaissance and attack vehicles? Surely that has to be the future for all three of our armed services.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that was a major feature in the UK/French summit that occurred last Friday, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier. The future of the unmanned combat air sector is very important, which was exactly why I highlighted in my earlier answer the contract with BAE Systems. That contract will take forward technology in a number of crucial areas and ensure that our skill base is sustained, maintained and can take advantage of the opportunities that the sector will provide in the future.