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Defence Sector Jobs

Volume 701: debated on Monday 20 September 2021

Last week was a good week for defence jobs: I announced investments in laser and radio-frequency weapons, which will sustain 249 jobs and create 49 more, including 30 in Northern Ireland, and investment to enhance the capabilities of C-17 and Chinook, which will support 200 UK jobs and create 50 at RAF Brize Norton; and on Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a £170 million investment in next-generation submarines, which will support 250 jobs at Barrow and 100 jobs at Rolls-Royce Derby. The UK sector more broadly already directly and indirectly supports more than 200,000 jobs throughout the UK.

First, I thank all the service personnel involved in Operation Pitting and pay tribute to the as-ever impressive leadership of Brigadier James Martin.

Radar is vital to our nation’s defence, and the Royal Navy’s radar is made in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Do the Government have a plan for the development of next-generation radar?

We absolutely do. My hon. Friend is an assiduous proponent of the Island’s defence sector. In the summer, I visited GKN Aerospace in Cowes, which is one of a number of great companies on the Island. On radar, my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we are working closely with BAE Systems on the potential spiral development of the existing maritime radar.

My constituency of West Bromwich East boasts great skills and is only 30 minutes away from the Telford production hub for the British Army’s Boxer fighting vehicle. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that UK small and medium-sized enterprises, including our fantastic businesses in the Black Country, get proper access to contracts in defence supply chains?

MOD spending on equipment and support with SMEs exceeded 21% last year. We are determined to push that proportion higher and I will publish a revised SME action plan later this year.

On Boxer, to which my hon. Friend referred, over 60% of the contract is expected to benefit UK suppliers. Following the integrated review, we are considering expanding the purchase, which will create even more opportunities for SMEs, including those in the Black Country.

Lincolnshire is rightly proud of its RAF links. The future combat air project will support jobs and bring crucial capability. Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is on track, with both our international partners and our industries?

It is absolutely on track. Further progress was made last week with our international partners Italy and Sweden, both of which I have been in discussions with over the summer, and it is on my agenda for my meeting tomorrow with the Defence Secretary in Japan. Our £2 billion investment in the future combat air system is benefiting from the co-investment of hundreds of millions of pounds from our industrial partners.

Of course, jobs in the defence industry depend on contracts, so may I come back to the question about the fleet solid support ships posed directly by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), which the Minister has tried to slide by? Why does the Minister not give a clear message to the industry and the workforce that the Government will prioritise British jobs and the design contracts will clearly go to a British firm? Why not make a proper decision and send that message, which should also go to the steel industry?

I am hoping to send an exact message. I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that, as I have said, we have made it absolutely clear that the contract will go to a British company, solely or as part of a consortium. We have introduced the social-value model, which is included in the defence and security industrial strategy, and it will play a significant part in the overall assessment phase. The right hon. Gentleman has pushed for this competition for a long time; it is ongoing and is going to happen, and I am looking forward to it. I am certain that British companies will be absolutely embedded throughout the process.

The Minister will know that companies in the defence industry have been subject to a spate of takeovers. Many familiar names, such as Cobham and GKN Aerospace, are now in foreign hands, while Meggitt has recently been subject to a takeover bid from a US-based company. Even though the companies involved have promised to protect jobs and research and development, that has not prevented them from selling assets and closing factories. Workers at GKN Driveline at Erdington in Birmingham are going on strike to protest against a proposal for 500 redundancies next May. What are the Government doing to ensure that when British companies are taken over, promises to keep jobs and research and development in this country are kept?

As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, the legislation that we passed broadening the scope in which intervention can take place was cleared through this Parliament and is ready to be introduced. We take very seriously our responsibilities under the Enterprise Act 2002. This is a matter for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy acting in his particular capacity, but guarantees can be sought and enforced as part of that process.