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Defence Industry

Volume 666: debated on Monday 21 October 2019

We are committed to supporting the UK defence manufacturing industry. On 14 March, the Government provided an update to Parliament on our ambitious defence prosperity programme, which includes work to sustain an internationally competitive and productive UK defence sector. In 2017-18, the MOD spent £18.9 billion with UK industry and commerce, directly supporting 115,000 jobs.

I thank the Minister for his response, but last week the former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, said that the deal for Cobham, which is being taken over by Advent, the private equity company, should be blocked. The Business Secretary said that there would be guarantees, but we know that in the case of GKN and Melrose, those guarantees were worthless. If the US President can say that the US automotive industry is a concern that should be protected for national security, what sort of protections do we have in place for our industry?

The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point about protecting our sovereign capability and I take that incredibly seriously, as someone who worked previously in QinetiQ, in the UK aerospace sector. The issue with Cobham is ongoing. It is currently before the relevant Department in Whitehall. We have made our internal submissions on that and I therefore cannot comment on that particular issue. It is important that we maintain and keep our sovereignty, where that is viewed as necessary for our future, but we should also not forget that the reason we are the second biggest aerospace exporter in the world is that we take an international consortium attitude towards it.

Can the Secretary of State tell us the future value of contracts to British companies such as GKN and Rolls-Royce and the future cost of those contracts?

Given the recent increase in our settlement of £2.2 billion, of which a large proportion will go on investing in the capital part of our budget, the future for UK aerospace should be bright and looks bright. The Type 31 frigate, for example, will be made in Rosyth and will be delivered by UK yards.

Although the bulk of its work in the United Kingdom is civilian, Airbus also does some military work—for instance, on the A400M transport aircraft. More importantly, leaving aside the problems with that aircraft, which are dreadful and multifarious, the current chief executive, Guillaume Faury, and his predecessor both threatened to withdraw up to 14,000 jobs from the United Kingdom if we left without a deal and in a disorderly manner. Now that we have a deal and are not planning to leave in a disorderly manner, does the Secretary of State agree that the chief executive of Airbus should withdraw that threat and should start talking about investment into the United Kingdom rather than disinvestment?

My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. My only advice to chief executives of aerospace companies is to invest where the skills are and where the customers are, and that is in the United Kingdom.

Although the order for the CVRT replacement, the Ajax tank, was placed with General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Rheinmetall—American and European companies—the hulls are being kitted out in Merthyr Tydfil and the turrets are being built in Bedford. How important is it that, if we place orders for the best equipment available in the free world, we should have as much UK content as possible?

Where possible, we should do all we can to ensure a huge proportion of UK content in all the contracts we deliver so that our forces get the kit they need.

I welcome the new Ministers to their posts. A little more than three months ago, a prominent Conservative Member of this House said:

“We must continue to hammer home the importance of sovereign capability”—[Official Report, 16 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 277WH.].

That was, of course, the new defence procurement Minister, speaking before she was promoted. Thinking about the fleet solid support ships, for example, can I ask the Secretary of State why his Ministers do not practise what they preach?

The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to comment on an ongoing competition. As he knows, if we were to prejudice that competition, both the UK taxpayer and potentially UK industry would be at risk of being sued by the other consortium. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), whom I welcome to my team, was not the Minister at the time of that competition, so to hold her to account in that way is unfair.