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Helicopter Manufacturing and Supply Chains

Volume 709: debated on Monday 21 February 2022

6. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the resilience of the helicopter supply chain in the UK. (905589)

17. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the resilience of helicopter (a) manufacturing and (b) supply chains in the UK. (905601)

We recognise the need to manage risk and ensure resilience in our manufacturing and supply chains, including rotary wing. Through past and current investment in rotary wing capabilities, including Wildcat and Apache, and upgrades to Merlin and Chinook, the UK industrial base remains well placed to support existing and future helicopter platforms, and continues to be a market of great interest to our industrial partners.

I thank the Minister for that response and I declare an interest as chair of the Unite group of Labour MPs in Parliament. Further to my Defence question of 15 November, when I asked the Minister what steps his Department was taking to ensure the resilience of the helicopter supply chain in the UK, will he now assure the House that, whoever wins the contract, the new Puma-replacement helicopters will be both manufactured and assembled here in the United Kingdom?

As we and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have said, the competition for the new medium helicopter contract, to which I believe the hon. Gentleman refers, will be launched very shortly. Given the skills and capabilities in this country and the nature of that competition, I am confident that a very substantial amount of benefit will flow to the UK as a result of that procurement.

I also declare an interest and I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris). We do not want to get into another situation like the one with the fleet solid support ships. Will the Government ensure that the value to the UK of placing the contracts with UK suppliers and UK manufacturers is included and priced into the deal and the contract?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. It is absolutely critical that we ensure that the social value associated with the contract is fully and fairly reflected in the tendering process. He has my assurance that we will do that and, as I said, it will not be long before he will be able to see more on that subject.

I entirely agree with others who have spoken about the importance of British manufacturers producing these things, but we have a very strong relationship with the United States of America and I welcome the fact that we have ordered 50 new Apache attack helicopters and are upgrading our Chinooks. Does the Minister acknowledge, however, that Boeing UK is now the fourth or fifth largest supplier to the MOD and that, as a British manufacturer, it is hoping to export goods—the new aeroplanes—to America soon?

It is indeed, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that Boeing is a strategic partner of ours. It also invests heavily, and I pay tribute to its work to enhance apprenticeships and its academic work, including in the far north of Scotland from our base at Lossie. It is an important strategic partner that brings value to the UK.

I am going to do something quite surprising and agree with the Secretary of State when he says, of the helicopter competition, that he does not want a “here today, gone tomorrow” supplier. What are the Minister’s plans to ensure that there is long-term investment in the UK helicopter industry, particularly in high-value engineering design and manufacturing jobs; apprenticeships; and enduring skills development in this vital industry?

On the NMH, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, it is likely, given the timescale—we want to have the helicopters in service in 2025 or as close to that as possible—that we will be seeking to procure an existing platform. However, that absolutely does not gainsay the fact that we will want to see real social value created in terms of engineering skills and capabilities in this country. That will be part of the competition.