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UK Defence Jobs

Volume 706: debated on Monday 10 January 2022

May I pay tribute on behalf of the Cabinet and the Government to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey)? We are sorry for his loss and our condolences are with his family. I shall remember Jack with his trademark mac that he often wore—he never changed it—and for his well-crafted arguments often against the Government, but nevertheless making strong and powerful points.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics recorded Ministry of Defence support to over 200,000 jobs in UK industry. Further economic growth and prosperity, including jobs, across the Union will be underpinned by £188 billion of investment in defence over four years and this Government’s commitment to a deeper and more strategic relationship with industry, as part of the defence and security industrial strategy.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. There is great interest in north Wales in the opportunity that the new medium helicopter programme could bring to the region. Will he provide an update on the progress made by his Department ahead of the launch of a formal competition?

Last November, we held a successful market interest day with potential suppliers to discuss requirements for our new medium helicopter programme. Hopefully, by February, we shall start the process of the competition.

As my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies), mentioned, the new helicopter programme could be significant in north-east Wales and generate around 400 jobs at Airbus directly, should its bid be successful. Will the Secretary of State confirm when the process is scheduled to be completed and when he expects the helicopters to come into service afterwards?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Whoever wins this competition, it is important that they contribute to the prosperity and job opportunities for UK citizens wherever they may be. I am not interested in “here today, gone tomorrow” suppliers for this. We want to enhance British industry and make sure that these helicopters are properly made and put together in this country. Once the competition is complete, we hope to have the medium-lift helicopters in service from the middle of this decade.

I was pleased to read last week of a new five-year, £460 million logistics contract that has been issued which should deliver the MOD £54 million of efficiency savings a year. Will the Secretary of State outline what the new logistics information system will mean for jobs in the UK, and specifically, jobs in the east midlands?

My hon. Friend highlights an important part of the capability in which we need to invest. Our logistics information system contract will support vital services for another five years and ensure that the UK can rapidly deploy military personnel and equipment globally. He will be pleased to hear that the contract will sustain 675 jobs across the UK supply chain and benefit the whole country, including through jobs at companies with a presence in the east midlands, such as IBM in Nottingham.

As joint chair of the all-party group on manufacturing, I know that Jack Dromey would have appreciated the emphasis today on manufacturing and UK jobs. The national shipbuilding strategy sets out an ambition to support UK manufacturing by boosting innovation, skills, jobs and productivity across the UK, in addition to ensuring the construction of ships’ hulls in British shipyards using British-sourced steel. Will the Secretary of State confirm that every encouragement will be given to UK-based companies to add to the UK content of these new vessels by supplying the systems and equipment that go hand in hand with them?

The 2017 national shipbuilding strategy has been highly successful at supporting our UK naval shipbuilding industry. I wish to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are working hard to ensure that the UK producers of steel, and the wider UK shipbuilding supply chain, have the best possible chance of competing for contracts—including General Electric, from his constituency. The refresh of the national shipbuilding strategy is due for publication—we hope that this will be by the end of this month.

Can I bring the Secretary of State back to planet Earth—or planet MOD? He has just mentioned GE at Rugby, but the MOD took no interest when its American parent company in Philadelphia wanted to move production to France; similarly, there was no interest in ensuring that the fleet solid support ships are built in the UK using British steel. Every other major industrial country and major defence country looks after their own industry. Why will he not throw off the blinkers and actually do the same here in the UK?

Oh dear. I think the right hon. Gentleman has not even read the defence industrial strategy, where it is very clear that we have committed to enhancing sovereignty. He will know, because he has watched the solid support ship contract with great interest, that we have also classified those ships as warships and started that competition. It is incredibly important that we recognise that, first and foremost, this Government are going to do more, and have done more, to enhance British shipbuilding than any other Government for many, many years, including the one he was a member of.

May I start by thanking the Defence Secretary and you, Mr Speaker, for the words about Jack Dromey? On this side, we mourn deeply his very sad and sudden death. He touched everyone he worked with—everyone has a proud or affectionate Jack Dromey story—and our House and our politics are the poorer without him this week.

Turning to the question, there are indeed 300,000 UK defence jobs, many linked to MOD contracts. Why have the National Audit Office and the MOD’s own accounts officially confirmed 67 cases of overspends, write-offs, contract cancellations, unplanned extensions and admin errors since 2010, costing at least £13 billion in taxpayers’ money wasted since 2010? Those are only the published data—they are the tip of the iceberg—so will the Secretary of State now commission the NAO to conduct an across-the-board audit of MOD waste, as Labour in government would from day one?

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the contents of Labour’s dodgy dossier on defence procurement, which are a fascinating read. They include allocating the loss on Nimrod, which the Labour party had governed for 13 years, to a Conservative Government and the fact that the Labour party had estimated that aircraft carriers would cost only £2.7 billion when in fact they cost over £6 billion. Considerable amounts of the so-called “waste” in the dossier show a breathtaking misunderstanding of both accountancy and how things operate when it comes to procurement. Retiring an aircraft last year that was due to retire in 2015—the Sentinel—does not make it a write-off or a waste; it is getting rid of a piece of equipment that is no longer value for money in delivering what we need to deliver. If he wishes to become the future Defence Secretary, I suggest he takes a course in accountancy first.

The Sentinel was, of course, retired before the replacement E-7 Wedgetails were ready, so the MOD rightly accounted for £147 million in constructive loss in its accounts. However, £4 billion has been wasted since 2019 alone, since the Secretary of State has been in post, and the National Audit Office has judged the MOD’s accounts for the defence equipment plan “unaffordable” every year for the last four years. It has said that there is a budget black hole of up to £17 billion. The Secretary of State has taken no serious action to deal with these deep-seated problems. He is failing British forces, and failing British taxpayers.


Let us start with the first point. The Sentinel is not an early-warning radar, which the E-7 Wedgetail is. If we are going to say that I retired one platform capability and replaced it with another, let us try to make sure that we replace it with the right type of capability, otherwise someone will be flying the wrong plane in the wrong place at the wrong time—but then I suppose we should not really be very surprised by Labour.

I entirely understand the NAO’s observations. There are, absolutely, a great many things to put right, and in putting them right, yes, we cancel programmes that we cannot afford, yes, we retire capabilities that should have been retired previously, because that is called putting your house in order. Otherwise, we end up with an NAO ruling that

“The MoD has a multi-billion-pound budgetary black hole which it is trying to fix with a ‘save now, pay later’ approach.”

That was the NAO’s report on the Labour Government in 2009, and the “pay later” is what we are now living with.

I endorse everything that both Front Benchers said about Jack Dromey, but not everything that followed.

The Secretary of State and I have crossed swords before about procurement. As he knows, the Public Accounts Committee said that the system was broken. He kindly offered me a meeting last time we discussed this in the House, and he kept his word: he generously gave me an hour of his time, and we discussed it in detail. Following that, is there anything he would like to say to the House today about his plans to reform procurement in the Ministry of Defence?

As I have said, there are observations about defence procurement in all the NAO reports and also in those of Select Committees of both Houses, and it has been a running sore for many years. We have to fix some of those issues. The Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), has come to the House time and again to talk about and expose the issues relating to Ajax, and has been honest and clear about the problems that we need to put right. I discussed with my right hon. Friend the need to ensure that our pricing estimates and the quality of our contracts are correct, so that risk is held in the right place. Both those issues are incredibly important. We also need a change in the culture of optimism bias: sometimes people want to gold-plate things when the good will do, rather than the perfect.

In 2010, when this Government came to power, there were three main RAF bases in Scotland, at Kinloss, Lossiemouth and Leuchars. Now there is only one. Can the Secretary of State tell us how many jobs were lost to Scotland as a result of the RAF draw-downs inflicted on it by Westminster, and, two years on from the Government’s own target of 12,500 personnel to be stationed in Scotland by 2020, will he also tell us how much that target has been missed by, as of today?

It is correct that there is one RAF base now—in Lossiemouth. However, we are increasing the footprint up there, because we will base the E-7 there alongside the P-8, and it is home to some Typhoon aircraft as well. So there have been increases in some areas. We have replaced the RAF base at Leuchars with Army units, and we will put another unit there as well. Overall, the proportion of the Army that is based in Scotland has increased since “Army 2030”.

Devonport is the UK’s premier naval base and dockyard. Will the Secretary of State present plans to recycle the 13 rotting nuclear submarines that are tied up alongside it? That would not only be good for the environment but good for Devonport, freeing up dock space, and good for jobs as well.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing attention to the importance of Plymouth. I have asked our Submarine Delivery Agency and, indeed, the Navy to present plans for investing in its infrastructure, which has suffered for too many decades from a lack of investment because people want the more “sexy” show capabilities rather than the things that underpin keeping our forces ready and fit for battle.

My right hon. Friend’s Department has announced that the Alanbrooke barracks in my constituency, which proudly hosts the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, will close in 2031. Can my right hon. Friend identify any possible other military uses for that base? Alternatively, will he work urgently with the local authority to ensure that the obvious redevelopment opportunities are taken up as quickly as possible?

I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss all opportunities to make use of that space.