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Defence Jobs

Volume 718: debated on Monday 18 July 2022

Not in the Defence team, Mr Speaker. We shall leave that to others.

The Ministry of Defence’s sustained investment in industries across the UK supports over 200,000 jobs. Continued high and focused defence spending, supported by the changes we are making as part of the defence and security industrial strategy, will contribute to further economic growth and prosperity across the Union.

It is good to see that you are in fine, typical wit despite the heat, Mr Speaker.

As my right hon. Friend said, the UK defence sector is vital for jobs, the defence of this country and our allies, such as the Ukrainians, against Russian aggression. I am very proud of the contribution of Thales, which is located in my constituency. What is his Department doing to encourage defence contractors such as Thales to expand to meet this country’s increasing defence needs?

My hon. Friend asks an important question. Last week, I met the Defence Suppliers Forum, which includes Thales. We work closely together not only to indicate potential investments by defence in what we would need, but to make sure that we both meet our future requirements. Thales UK is one of Britain’s biggest and most advanced defence companies. Its NLAW—next generation light anti-tank weapon—systems are being used in Ukraine. I congratulate him on posing a question on Thales.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that procurement rules in the UK should recognise the socioeconomic benefit of investment as well as value for money in defence spending? To that end, will his Department ensure that more defence contracts are given to businesses based in Britain, such as our fantastic manufacturers in Teesside?

Yes, the defence industrial strategy embraces the social value model from the Treasury in competitive procurement and ensures that tackling economic inequality and equal opportunity are factors that are taken into consideration in procurement. Under my direction and that of the Minister for Defence Procurement, the Ministry of Defence always has regard for onshore sovereign capability and industrial skills.

Scottish businesses receive more investment than average across the UK from defence procurement, so how will my right hon. Friend continue to encourage the building of the skills that we need to help Scottish businesses to continue doing their bit in defence of our United Kingdom?

Our investment in Scotland was £1.99 billion last year, on projects such as the Type 26 in Govan, the Type 31 in Rosyth, airborne radars and advanced laser munitions in Edinburgh, which all help to sustain the skills base. It is incredibly important that the Scottish Government and the UK Government work with the further education colleges and the manufacturers to make sure that they invest in the skills that we so vitally need.

The Boxer programme in Telford has a positive effect throughout the midlands, with over 60% of its value flowing into UK supply chains. Can my right hon. Friend confirm how certain we can be of future jobs and investment from defence land equipment?

Yes, the fact that the Army will invest £41.3 billion in new capabilities over the next decade—including the likes of Boxer, Challenger 3 and two new major programmes that will develop in the near future, such as deep fires—will increase production and the employment base, which is also why it is so important that we invest in the skills at the same time. That will put UK land manufacturing back at the forefront of the international defence sector. It is a part of the sector that has lagged behind air and sea for too long.

May I make it simple for the Secretary of State? Defence jobs depend on orders, principally from his Department, and even export orders depend on British validation. He referred earlier to his support for the British defence industry, so why will he not now commit to ordering the fleet solid support ships to be built in British yards?

They will certainly be integrated in British yards, and a significant proportion will be built there. Let us have a look at what the bidders say; I have not yet seen the bids. As the right hon. Gentleman absolutely points out, British defence is dependent on British manufacturing, but British manufacturing is dependent on exports. If we are going to export our defence, as with Typhoon aircraft, Boxer and many of our exports, we often have to collaborate with international partners, because if we close the door on them, they are not going to buy British kit.

The Defence Secretary has just said that social value will be taken into consideration when awarding contracts. I have asked numerous parliamentary questions of the Department to try to quantify that; I have had no answer. I have asked the National Audit Office this question; it does not seem to know what is being used by the Department. Could the Defence Secretary clarify exactly what social value means, in quantifiable terms, when awarding contracts? It was clearly laid out in the excellent report that the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) did a few years ago.

In strategy documents such as the national shipbuilding strategy, we pledged a minimum 20% weighting for social value with naval ships. Social value is one of the weightings that we put on the contract. All contracts are obviously different from what we are seeking to buy, but within the weighting for social value, on which 20% of the total award is based, we can consider inequalities or the economic factors that I referred to earlier. I make sure that those factors are in there, and that they are adhered to. It is incredibly important.

The hostelries of east Fife benefit hugely from having Leuchars in east Fife. Similarly, when Joint Warrior comes to the north-west of my constituency, brisk trade is done. Does the Secretary of State accept that there are spin-off jobs that benefit from MOD expenditure the length and breadth of the UK?

Yes. I am delighted that military activity in the north-west and the east of Scotland brings in not just investment and industry—the £1.99 billion that I have talked about—but economic engagement with the community, which helps to sustain jobs, often in low season rather than the tourist season. It is Britain’s armed forces and British defence that help to keep us all safe, from the very tip of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency right down to the south-west.

But the defence jobs that the Defence Secretary is cutting are those of our armed forces personnel. There are 40,000 less than when Labour left office, and right now we are cutting another 10,000 jobs. At a time when there is greater global instability, we could be utilising these vital armed forces personnel to de-escalate risk using soft power, which our armed forces are so good at. Could the Defence Secretary tell the House whether this determination is driven by him, by the former Chancellor or by the professional leadership of our armed forces?

It is currently driven by an estimation of threat. As I have said a number of times at the Dispatch Box, if the threat changes, so must we. I do not call an increase of £24 billion in spending on defence a cut, in anybody’s book. However, what I do believe is that as the threat changes, so must we. We will continue to review that and, if the threat changes, I will be back.

May I congratulate the Defence Secretary and his team on ensuring that there has been continuity in defence while the rest of the Conservative Government have collapsed in chaos? Let me also say, lest this prove to be their last session of oral questions in their current jobs, that whatever our other disagreements, the Secretary of State’s cross-party working on Ukraine has helped to ensure that the UK has strong, unified support for the Ukrainians.

The right hon. Gentleman has been Defence Secretary since the Prime Minister, nearly two years ago, boosted defence spending and boasted that that would create 10,000 jobs every year. Only 800 new defence jobs have been created since then. Why the failure?

I should be happy for the right hon. Gentleman to show me that 800 figure, but, first and foremost, we have started to invest that £43.1 billion, or £41.3 billion, in the land scheme, a huge amount of which will be spent on Boxer and Challenger 3. That will generate an enormous number of jobs. Obviously, replenishing some of our ammunition stocks, many of which are made up and down the United Kingdom, will result in more jobs, and indeed the increased skills base for our work on the Dreadnought submarine.

Let me thank the right hon. Gentleman—my opposite number on the Front Bench—and, indeed, the whole House for the cross-party support on Ukraine. I also thank my team, my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (James Heappey), for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) and for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb), Baroness Goldie, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy). It is not often that a team stick together in Parliament or indeed in Government and, whatever happens over the next few months, it has been a privilege for me to work with all of them.

We will continue to invest in the jobs—over 200,000. No doubt the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) will be attending Farnborough air show this week; it is an incredibly important event to showcase British industry.

The answer is simple: direct British defence contracts first to British firms and British jobs, starting with the Navy’s new support ships.

The right hon. Gentleman has been Defence Secretary since the Prime Minister also pledged, at the last election:

“We will not be cutting our armed services in any form.”

However, he then launched plans to cut the British Army by a further 10,000 troops. He uses the words “when the threats change”. With Ukraine, the threats that we face are greater and our obligations to NATO are greater, so will he now do what Labour has been urging the Government to do for more than a year, and rethink these cuts in the strength of the British Army?

As I have also said over the year to those on the Labour Front Bench, we have already reduced the original cut by 500 so that the numbers are increased from 72,500 to 73,000. As for the changing threats, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the defence command paper was written and delivered before the actual Russian invasion of Ukraine. I have said continually that we will review it, and we will obviously review the threat as it changes. That review of the threat is ongoing, which is why Defence Intelligence gives regular briefings, and next year, or the year after, is the Department’s spending moment.