The “National Security Through Technology” White Paper published in February emphasised the need for a strong skills base in the UK to ensure that the armed forces and national security agencies have access to the technology, equipment and support they need. That is why we are creating the right conditions for companies to invest in the UK, encouraging innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, investing in defence science and technology, and strongly supporting responsible defence and security exports. We are also working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on a range of initiatives to maintain and develop engineering and scientific skills, including initiating a dialogue with the defence industries similar to that taking place through the successful aerospace growth partnership.
There are reports today in the newspapers that the F-35B programme is to face substantial cuts in the US. Has the Minister had any indication from his counterparts in the US of a reduction in the number that will be procured, which may affect defence jobs in east Lancashire?
I remember a good friend of mine, a general, who retired recently from the British armed services, who said he would know that he had retired when he started believing what he read in newspapers. I would strongly recommend to the hon. Gentleman not to believe what he reads in newspapers. The United States remains strongly committed to the programme. The F-35B is an outstanding aircraft, it is flying extensively, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will receive our first two aircraft on Thursday. The hon. Gentleman should be a little sceptical.