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Farnborough Air Show

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

The Farnborough international air show, which takes place in my constituency, was opened last Monday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who emphasised the high importance that the Government attach to supporting defence and security exports. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence attended with his ministerial team, and we were extremely well supported throughout by the team from the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation. RAF air and ground crews, accompanied by Italian air force personnel, were on hand to provide briefings on the outstanding role played by the Typhoon on operations over Libya last year. In addition, 150 air cadets were out in force helping the show organisers.

I visited the Farnborough air show last week and was able to see the best of the British aerospace industry, which employs 100,000 people, is worth £20 billion, and holds a 17% share of the global market. Will the Minister join me in recognising the importance of the role played by small and medium-sized enterprises in the supply chain, particularly those in my constituency which are driving growth and employing apprentices?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for setting out so clearly the merits of the Farnborough air show. He is absolutely right: SMEs play a hugely important part. It is not just about the big boys. Without the SMEs, which are a repository of a huge amount of highly specialised technical knowledge, we would not have the industries that we do have. I am pleased to say that orders worth $72,000 million were signed as a result of last week’s show.

I too had the privilege of attending the air show last week, in my capacity as vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Space Committee. The UK’s space industry has grown by 10% year on year for most of the last decade. Will the Minister tell me how the Ministry of Defence is supporting UK business in exporting in the defence sector?

I am pleased to say that the space industry is making a hugely important contribution in the United Kingdom. We have a number of very well-qualified companies. Two names that spring to mind are EADS Astrium and Surrey Satellite Technology, both of which are making huge contributions. I must tell my hon. Friend, however, that this is quite sensitive territory, and I cannot go into too much detail.

We are still exporting arms to Bahrain, where the death toll mounts, the numbers in prison grow and the torture continues. I am curious to know whether the Minister has any moral qualms about that.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well from his experience in the Foreign Office, we have one of the most stringent arms export control arrangements in the world, and we look very carefully at these matters. I should add that Bahrain has been an extremely important friend and ally to both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Many Scottish firms get assistance from UK Trade and Investment and benefit from the fact that the British forces use Scottish equipment. Are Scottish firms likely to be helped or hindered by any breakaway of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom?

Order. Please will the Minister answer that question with reference purely, and very narrowly and briefly, to the Farnborough air show?

First, let me say that the Typhoon air display was given by a Scot—Scott Loughran. He gave an absolutely stunning display of the Typhoon. The UKTI Defence and Security Organisation represents the whole United Kingdom, and it does a great job for Scotland. If we were to bust up the UK, that would be bad news for Scotland, bad news for the UK and bad news for all businesses in this country.

The fact that last week some 16 Ministers attended the Farnborough air show, all of whom showed a great degree of knowledge and interest, and the fact that the Prime Minister opened it with an outstanding speech, went down extremely well with the defence industry. Is my hon. Friend able to say whether exactly the same will happen in two years’ time?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and constituency neighbour, for pointing out that—as the trade association, the ADS, also observed—the event had unprecedented support from Ministers, including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and from the Opposition as well. The support given to the show has been extremely valuable. I myself had 15 meetings with overseas delegations, and I can tell my right hon. Friend that I fully expect the same to apply in 2014.