The Ministry of Defence spent nearly £1.6 billion with Scottish businesses in 2016-17, supporting some 10,500 jobs. This demonstrates the vital contribution of the workforce in Scotland to defending the UK from the growing threats we face from across the globe.
At Defence questions on 26 November, I raised concerns about the desperate shortage of Royal Navy coastal defence vessels, which number just three according to the Minister for the Armed Forces. It is also the case that Scottish shipyards have suffered from major cuts in defence orders. Will the Government now right both those wrongs by allocating new orders for coastal defence vessels from Scottish shipbuilders?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have secured 20 years’ worth of work for the Clyde shipyards. We would be hard-pressed to find any industry in the UK that could say it has secured 20 years’ worth of work to help its workforce for the future.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this important issue. The Ministry of Defence is reviewing the Scottish Government’s plans for next year’s tax, and we await the final outcome and ratification from the Scottish Parliament. We will review the situation and determine whether the impact on the UK armed forces warrants an offer of financial mitigation. Once a decision has been made, an announcement will be made to this House and to those affected personnel.
Happy birthday, Mr Sweeney. I gather it is a significant birthday—30 today and you do not look a day older than 20.
The defence sector is critical for the Scottish economy, but so are other sectors, such as financial services, higher education, food and drink, and fisheries. So will the Minister have a chat with the Secretary of State to make sure that in Cabinet the Secretary of State is insisting that a no-deal outcome is ruled out?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ingenious way of bringing in defence industry issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is constantly fighting for Scotland around the Cabinet table and he will continue to do so long into the future.
As I said, we are trying to build in a good shipbuilding programme so that shipyards around the country know what the Ministry of Defence’s requirements are going to be for the next 30 years and they can plan accordingly. We also want them to be incredibly competitive, so that they are able to compete for commercial lines, and not just in this country—we want them to be able to compete for opportunities around the world.
What would the impact of the break-up of the Union be on defence supply companies based in Scotland?
I wish to start by adding my sentiments to those expressed by the Secretary of State on our wonderful sportsman Andy Murray.
The Secretary of State has turned his back on Scotland’s great shipbuilding tradition by putting the fleet solid support contract out to international tender. He will no doubt trot out the line, “These are not warships.” However, the Minister of State for Defence, Earl Howe, responded to a written question by saying that a ship such as this is a “non-complex warship”. I grew up in a shipbuilding community. A warship carried weapons, explosives and ammunition, which is exactly what these ships do. So if these are not warships, what are they?
I have made this point consistently, as the hon. Lady will know: the national shipbuilding strategy defines warships as frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers. The primary role of the FSS ships is the replenishment of naval vessels with bulk stores. They are non-combatant naval auxiliary support ships, and therefore they will go out to international competition. What I am delighted to see is that there is a British bid in that competition.
May I suggest to the Secretary of State that he might want to visit a shipyard, as I am sure plenty of workers there would like to give him a different account of that strategy? We are talking about highly skilled, high-paid jobs that could return £2.3 billion of revenue to the Treasury, while providing sustainable employment and ensuring that communities continue to thrive. Instead, the Secretary of State is torpedoing Scottish shipbuilding in favour of bargain basement deals. So will he allow this Prime Minister to continue the destructive legacy of Thatcher or will he support the Scottish Labour party and the Labour party by backing our plans to finally stand up for Scottish shipbuilding, and protect and create jobs in the industry?
It may have escaped the hon. Lady’s attention but I am not the Secretary of State, and I have visited many of the shipyards around this country and in Scotland. I have seen for myself how well they are doing. We want them to be competitive, so that they can have a long-term future. We have 20 years of work guaranteed for Scotland’s shipyards, and Conservative Members can be proud of that.