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International Supply Chains

Volume 572: debated on Monday 16 December 2013

The Ministry of Defence undertakes a quarterly assessment of industrial risk covering both domestic and international supply chains. Our key suppliers are under regular review, not only for their financial status, but for their business strategy, sector risk and leverage. Prime contractors are held responsible for the health of their own supply chain, although many of their sub-contractors are also reviewed under the MOD critical supplier process, which monitors the financial resilience of more than 500 domestic and international suppliers.

Food security is one of the big issues facing the UK, given that we are one of the largest importers of food. When assessing the increasing protectionism and food consumption globally, does the MOD feel that we have a secure food supply chain?

I am very confident of the food supply chain for mince pies, having visited the factory supplying our troops in Helmand earlier today.

The national security risk assessment rates the short to medium-term disruption to essential resources including food as a tier 3 risk. The UK currently enjoys a high degree of food security in terms of access, availability, resilience and variety of food supply. The main role for the MOD in securing international food supply chains and other critical resources is, in co-ordination with others, to police international sea lanes, which supply the vast majority of imports to the UK of food and other essential resources.

In the scenario planning assessing the security of the supply chain, has the Minister considered the possibility of the Suez canal being closed? What provision has he made for such a scenario?

The Suez canal is clearly a vital supply chain route in and out of the Mediterranean. Naval vessels use those channels to take part in some of our regular routine operations on the other side of the Gulf, and the canal is of course an essential part of the security of supply chains for oil resources out of the Gulf. We keep that under continual contingency planning.

BAE Systems has announced its plan to cease shipbuilding in Portsmouth, which will have an impact not only on its own employees but on those in the wider supply chain. What steps is the Minister taking to support small and medium-sized enterprises through this difficult time?

Clearly, BAE System’s decision to extract itself from shipbuilding in Portsmouth will have a significant impact locally, but my hon. Friend will be well aware that more than 11,000 people will continue to be employed on the royal naval base at Portsmouth, which will maintain vital jobs for SMEs throughout the supply chain.

What role can unmanned aerial vehicles play in filling the maritime capability gap, and has the Minister considered the use of UAVs by both Europe and the United States of America for maritime surveillance and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the strategic defence and security review 2015 will be the opportunity to review new capabilities in the unmanned space. He might also be aware that the ScanEagle unmanned maritime system is due to enter service in the new year.

Cyber-security attacks constitute an increased threat to the supply chain. How is the MOD working with the industry to ensure sufficient and proportionate cyber-security in the UK supply chain?

As the hon. Lady might be aware, last July we announced the defence cyber-protection policy, which works in conjunction with industry to develop awareness of cyber-defences across the 13 largest defence contractors and with the SME representatives, the trade associations. We are working closely with industry to develop cyber-defensive capabilities.