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UK’s Defence Capability

Volume 648: debated on Monday 22 October 2018

2. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of using new and developing technologies to support the UK’s defence capability. (907159)

I thank my hon. Friend for his time and for the opportunity to see the excellent Manufacturing Technology Centre in his constituency just the other week, which demonstrated to me that emerging technologies present greater opportunities but also more complex threats than ever before.

In addition to the great work at the MTC, does the Secretary of State agree with me that an excellent example of new technology supporting military capability is the electric drive systems using anti-vibration technology being installed on our marine vessels, which were both developed in Rugby and built in Rugby, and does he agree with me that they represent a great future for British manufacturing?

Such technologies do represent a fantastic future for British manufacturing. If we look at the success that the Type 26 has had not just with the eight Type 26 frigates that are going to be built in Britain, but in securing orders in Australia and Canada, we can see that it demonstrates this kind of technology is not only designed in Britain, but should always be built in Britain.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) has now timed her bobbing correctly. I call Emma Hardy.

Workers at BAE Systems in Brough have always been at the forefront of developing technology and manufacturing, but after meeting some of the workers last week I am becoming increasingly concerned about their sole reliance on the Hawk orders. Can the Secretary of State do anything to encourage BAE Systems to diversify their manufacturing and to protect jobs at the Brough site?

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I have been working very closely with BAE Systems, but also with the Qataris in securing a key order for Hawk trainer jets. The hon. Lady raises an important point about the diversity of the site. It is certainly something that I can raise with those at BAE Systems at my next meeting with them, and I will be seeing them later this month.

I am delighted that the Secretary of State has seen fit to protect our amphibious capability—HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion —and their related technologies, both new and conventional. These are such crucial tools for the Marines. On that note, will the Secretary of State fully understand and comprehend the importance of 40 Commando to my town of Taunton in his assessment of future capabilities?

I thank my hon. Friend for all she did in raising her concerns about Albion and Bulwark. On 40 Commando in Taunton, I absolutely reassure her that there are no plans to move 40 Commando from Taunton: it will be there for a long time into the future.

The Secretary of State surely knows that, in a world of cyber-warfare, we of course need to invest in new technology and great innovation. However, he should not forget the Cinderellas, such as David Brown Gear Systems in Huddersfield, which is making gear boxes for tanks and for our great vessels. Will he come to Huddersfield and see what we do there?

I know David Brown very well. He is of course the man who saved Aston Martin, so there is a very famous industrial heritage there. If I am not able to visit David Brown, I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, will be able to do so. We will look to make sure that one of us does. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the amount of technology and ingenuity we have in this country, and we should be very proud of it. That is not always just through the prime contractors, but through the many businesses that are so dependent on defence contracts.

I urge the Secretary of State to follow my very good example: I visited the Huddersfield constituency, and the hon. Gentleman who represents it is a very good host, as is the university to boot. It will widen the Secretary of State’s learning and cultural experience to go there.

The UK’s defence capability has been immeasurably enhanced by the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth. We saw her in New York this weekend. Will the Secretary of State consider putting together a national carrier strategy, so that for the next 50 years she has a real, important global purpose?

We do need to have a very clear national carrier strategy, because this is not just an important part of projecting power, but a key part of our national deterrence and of making sure that nations all around the globe understand that Britain has the capability to defend herself and to protect our international interests.

Will the Secretary of State commend Cammell Laird for winning for the second time its support order for the Royal Navy? Given the level of technology in the yard, is it not well placed for the new frigate orders? Although we are careful about taxpayers’ money and will not give him the hospitality that Huddersfield has offered, will he please come?

I am getting a lot of invites and feel privileged to have so many. I congratulate Cammell Laird very much on its successful bid. It goes to show how vital money spent by the MOD is to many local economies. I shall endeavour to visit Cammell in the near future, but if I do not, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, will certainly do so.

The Government believe it is vital to future-proof technologies, so I was shocked to learn that the Ministry of Defence has given the green light—yet again—to an American company, Boeing, for the replacement of the Sentry AWACS aircraft. That has been done without any competitive process, and it has been said that Boeing is planning to use old aircraft and semi-obsolete radar. Clearly there are differences of opinion about what Boeing has to offer, so will the Secretary of State agree to an independent evaluation of all the options to be considered?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not intentionally mislead the House by implying that we are going to have old aircraft. We will have new aircraft in terms of the potential procurement of Wedgetail. We are confident that this is the best capability; it is world leading and it has the best ability to bring it to our Royal Air Force at the earliest possible stage.