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Defence Manufacturing Capabilities

Volume 666: debated on Monday 21 October 2019

To help sustain future capabilities we have published strategies for shipbuilding and combat air and refreshed our defence industrial policy with a new emphasis on supporting growth and competitiveness, which are central to our procurement programmes, including, for example, the Type 31 frigate and Tempest.

The UK has a world-beating defence industry that is dependent on high-value design. How is the Department supporting the Government’s “Engineering: Take a Closer Look” campaign to ensure that people understand how vital engineering is to our defence industry?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being appointed engineering envoy by the Government. Engineering is incredibly important, which is why we support the “Engineering: Taker a Closer Look” campaign, which will form part of that legacy and focus on STEM youth engagement, targeting not only young people but the gatekeepers, such teachers and parents. We are fully supportive of the campaign objective, which is to increase consideration of a career in engineering with a specific focus on 11 to 16-year-olds, especially among under-represented groups, such as girls and black and minority ethnic groups.

To keep skills and innovation here the Government have been determined to invest in home-grown innovation. It is the best way to sustain UK capability in the long term. That is why the defence and security accelerator, launched in 2016, is so important, as is the defence innovation fund, under which £800 million will be spent in that sector over the next 10 years.

Thousands of people in north Hampshire contribute to the defence of our country, and the ability of companies such as Fujitsu, Harris and BAE Systems and their supply chains to recruit experts from across the world to work with our domestic home-grown talent is an essential part of our winning formula. How will the Government ensure that that recruitment can continue after we leave the EU?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been very clear about the need for a points-based system to enable us to secure the skills that we need, but, again, the long-term solution is investment in our skills base. I was pleased about the increase in further education funding that was announced in the recent spending review, which will be important to ensuring that that happens. In my constituency in Lancashire, investment in schools and higher and further education colleges is the bedrock of BAE’s capability.

I know that the Secretary of State is reluctant to talk about the fleet solid support ship contract, but may I ask him what percentage of the bid is being taken into consideration in terms of support for UK jobs and manufacturing? Will he really be content to be the Secretary of State who is willing to export jobs to Spain rather than investing in this country?

I think that the last part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question anticipated the result of any competition that will take place, and I am not going to comment on who or what is going to win if we progress to that stage with competent bids. It will be important for all the bids to include an element of UK capability, and we will ensure that we take that into consideration. It is important to us, and to the skills in this country, for the customer—the MOD, which is spending all that money—to secure not only an export market but a UK base.

Project Tempest is delivering and investing in a future fast jet programme. However, given what we are hearing about the potential closure of Brough, may I ask what conversations the Secretary of State is having with BAE Systems about replacement training jets, and what investment he is planning to make in some new Red Arrows?

I shall have to write to the hon. Lady about the Red Arrows, because I was not expecting that question, but the Tempest project is an important signal to BAE Systems that the Government are committed to another generation of fast jets. I shall be meeting representatives of BAE soon, and I shall ensure that its desire to be part of the programme is reflected in the locations of its workforce around the country.

The Secretary of State made a very significant statement from the Dispatch Box a while ago when he said that companies should invest where the skills are and where the customers are. That only applies if the customers are prepared to use their buying power to insist that the manufacturing takes place in the UK. Why will the Secretary of State not change Government policy, even before Brexit, and insist that the solid support vessels are built in British yards? Make a decision, man!

The two aircraft carriers are built in British yards, the Type 26 is built in British yards, the Type 45 is built in British yards, the offshore patrol Batch 2 is built in British yards, the Type 31 is currently built in British yards, and we will continue to invest in our yards. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) ask how we could ensure that BAE continued to invest in its workforce. It can continue to invest in its workforce because it also manages to export around the world When we export, we must recognise that we need an international consortium, because we cannot sell purely to ourselves; we have to export around the world.