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Defence Exports

Volume 561: debated on Monday 15 April 2013

This Ministry of Defence is fully committed to the Government’s growth agenda by supporting responsible defence exports. From the Prime Minister down, ministerial colleagues and senior officials are actively supporting the British defence industry in international markets. For example, already this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has promoted defence exports during his visits to Australia and Indonesia. I have visited India, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Malaysia in support of exports and to lead delegations at defence exhibitions, and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who has responsibility for international security strategy, has just returned from supporting defence exports in Libya and Brazil.

The production of the wings for the new Airbus A400M at Filton is progressing so well that Airbus has announced that it is increasing the number of skilled aircraft fitters. Once the first aircraft is delivered to the French air force this summer, and to the RAF next year, I believe that the A400M will be the jewel in the crown of the British aerospace industry. Will the Minister outline what action the Government are taking to support exports of this aircraft to markets overseas?

The A400M Atlas will provide both tactical and strategic airlift capability from its first delivery to the RAF next year. We agree that this world-class capability has the potential to become the tactical lift aircraft of choice for air forces around the world once the hugely successful C-130 Hercules, which has had this role for many years, is withdrawn from service. The UK is fully behind the efforts of Airbus Military to export the Atlas military transport aircraft, which will support skilled jobs in the aerospace hub around Bristol and across the UK.

The Defence ministerial team will have had a number of representations on the challenges faced by small and medium-sized enterprises in being able to compete adequately. What support will the ministerial team be extending to SMEs in the defence sector so that they can compete and export internationally?

As I have said at the Dispatch Box previously, we have a strong commitment to support SME penetration of our own procurement chain and to help them export overseas. Early next month, in support of the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation, I am attending a symposium at which there will be more than 350 SMEs, precisely to help them with their defence exports.

20. I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier answer. Will he explain to those who do not necessarily understand the merit of defence exports the incredible benefit they deliver, not only for our armed forces but for the wider British economy? (150749)

Our armed forces benefit directly from responsible defence exports. Not only do they help build bilateral relationships and defence co-operation with our key allies, but they raise capability, enhance the interoperability of allies and partner nations, and contribute to regional security around the globe. As far as the contribution to the UK economy is concerned, defence exports have a vital role to play in sustaining UK jobs, generating UK tax revenues and helping to ensure the long-term viability and cutting edge of our defence industrial base.

I would like to associate the Opposition with the Minister’s condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal Webb for their loss.

The Minister will be aware that the Brazilian navy is looking to acquire at least one, possibly two, new aircraft carriers, so there will be significant potential for export opportunities. French companies are already on the case, supported by the French Government, looking to procure the design work. Given that we are building two of the world’s most advanced aircraft carriers, as a result of which we will have the skills and a dip in ship-building orders between the end of the carrier build and the start of the Type 26—which, incidentally, we are looking to sell to the Brazilians—what discussions has his Department, including the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), during his recent visit, had with the Brazilians specifically to promote British interests in the design and build of those carriers?

As the hon. Lady knows, Brazil and the UK entered into a maritime co-operation agreement as a result of the Prime Minister’s visit in recent months. As I said earlier, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire, visited Brazil only last week, when he discussed maritime co-operation, particularly in the offshore patrol vessel area. It is clear that the Brazilians wish to construct the aircraft carriers in their own shipyards, which means that there is no prospect of a direct export order for an entire ship; but as regards many of the systems, components and weapons systems, we will be seeking to provide opportunities for companies in this country supplying our aircraft carriers, which are currently under construction in Rosyth, to bid into the Brazilian and other nations’ programmes.