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Defence Manufacturing

Volume 660: debated on Monday 20 May 2019

24. What steps her Department is taking to maintain the capabilities of UK defence manufacturing. (910990)

The 2015 strategic defence and security review introduced a new national security objective to promote UK prosperity. We subsequently published strategies for shipbuilding and combat air, and refreshed our defence industrial policy with a new emphasis on supporting growth and competitiveness. On 14 March, we provided an update to Parliament on our ambitious defence prosperity programme.

Last week, the Secretary of State described our Type 26 frigates as the envy of the world. They are powered by the most capable and quietest electric drive motors, which are designed and made by GE in Rugby. Is the Minister as delighted as I am at today’s news that the Ministry of Defence is bringing forward orders for the motors for the second batch of those vessels, which will enable this vital facility to remain here in the UK?

May I first praise my hon. Friend for the work he has done to fight for the factory in his constituency? I could not walk down a corridor without bumping into him and him lobbying hard. That was why I made sure that I met GE. I am pleased to inform him that this morning GE announced to its staff that it has reached an agreement with the Ministry of Defence that will enable the company to continue its work in his constituency. I also pay tribute to my officials, who have worked incredibly hard on this matter to ensure that the machines continue in Rugby.

Delivery of the Tempest programme, as driven by BAE Systems in Warton, is essential to managing the future military air requirements of the United Kingdom. Can the Minister confirm continued Government support for the combat air strategy, as outlined by the Prime Minister at Farnborough?

My hon. Friend secured a debate just last week on this very issue and is obviously fighting very hard for his constituents who work at BAE Systems. The Government continue to deliver the combat air strategy which, as he says, was launched at Farnborough last year. That is a big piece of work, which is looking at the future air combat system technology initiative. The Government will continue to look at all innovative technologies that will need to be available, while we explore a broad range of options to deliver capability.

The cross-party report on shipbuilding recommended that the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships are built in British shipyards—that is absolutely vital and enjoys cross-party support. Has the Minister read the report, and will he meet the officers of the all-party group to take forward our recommendations?

I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and others who have shown an interest in this. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is currently conducting a review into the MARS—military afloat reach and sustainability—tankers to see how we can learn from that and maximise the opportunities that will exist for the supply chain in the UK.

In recent days, we have heard of foreign shipbuilders pulling out of the bidding process for the fleet solid support ships. If the Government are being true to the national shipbuilding strategy, will the Minister accept that time is of the essence for not only the support ships but the bidding process for the Type 31 frigates? I know of a yard that has the skills, experience, talent and infrastructure to build those ships for the UK—we are good to go in Rosyth, so, for the sake of jobs and the industry, will the Minister start signing the contracts?

The hon. Gentleman mentions the Type 31. Of course, that is a UK-only competition and we will wait for the results later this year. On the fleet solid support ships, I am pleased that a UK consortium is in there. I can confirm that Fincantieri has withdrawn from the competition, but I am not going to comment on any other entrants, because it is purely speculation at this stage.