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Defence Procurement: Jobs

Volume 663: debated on Monday 8 July 2019

15. What recent estimate she has made of the number of jobs that defence procurement supports in the UK. (911777)

I thank the Minister for his work to ensure that the propulsion systems for the Navy’s Type 26 frigates will continue to be built in Rugby and for the security and future opportunities that that will give much of the workforce. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that we train up the next generation of skilled engineers to continue that vital work?

I recognise the important role that my hon. Friend played in ensuring that the GE facilities were maintained in Rugby. I agree that it is absolutely vital to ensure that the defence sector has the right skills to meet all our needs. Many of our suppliers have well established programmes and schemes to ensure that that happens, and we continue to work through the Defence Suppliers Forum and the Defence Growth Partnership to ensure that those skills and training are maintained.

The Secretary of State highlighted in an earlier answer the importance of the prosperity agenda for defence contracts. I know that the Minister has read the recent report on shipbuilding and ship procurement in the UK by the all-party parliamentary group on shipbuilding. Will he tell the House what weighting will be given to prosperity in awarding the fleet solid support contracts?

I was looking at the two right hon. Gentlemen and wondering whether it was more like Waldorf and Statler, but I will not be so rude—although I have just have been. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: when we look at the contracts, not just for the shipbuilding but for the content within, there are huge opportunities for the UK supply chain, where much more of the value exists. I recognised that in his all-party group’s recent report, and his and other right hon. and hon. Members’ work will inform much of the decision making on our future policy.

I hope that the Minister will also acknowledge the great role of the Defence Committee, under the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) as Chairman, and the trade unions in maintaining the facility at GE Rugby and seeing off GE’s attempts to close it. May I bring the Minister back to the solid support ship contract and ask him to answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)? What weighting is given to prosperity? Will he please stop blaming the European Union, when every other country in the European Union looks after its own industry and supports its own yards and its own steel industry? Why will he not show some gumption and do the same?

I thought I had shown some gumption. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that the policy will be changing—

I have just explained that the timelines are critical in the current competition, because the existing fleet that will offer support to the carrier will be coming to the end of its life. We have to have that capability. Surely he thinks that is more important than just trying to score a political point.