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Defence Industry

Volume 639: debated on Monday 23 April 2018

I would very much like to associate the Government with your comments and warm wishes, Mr Speaker.

I am sure that the whole House will also wish to join me in offering our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Matt Tonroe, who died while on operations on 29 March. He served his country with great distinction, and his service will never be forgotten.

The strategic defence and security review created a national security objective to promote our prosperity, and we are committed to supporting a thriving and internationally competitive defence sector. We have published our national shipbuilding strategy and refreshed the defence industrial policy, and work is under way to develop a combat air strategy. Exports are central to our approach, and British industry, working with the Government, is looking at how we can exploit opportunities.

The defence industry supports over 100,000 jobs directly in the UK, and many more indirectly. Will the Secretary of State put in place some meaningful measures to consider economic and employment practices when making contract decisions?

I would be very happy to look at those options. I hate to correct the hon. Lady, but actually a quarter of a million people are working in the defence industry, supporting not just the UK, but exports as well. I encourage her to have a dialogue with my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who is doing a piece of policy work on how we can work more closely with industry in promoting prosperity.

While it is of course quite right that the Government should do everything that they can to support the British defence industry, the truth of the matter is that it is an international business. In our area of the south-west, Boeing, Airbus and Leonardo—all foreign-owned—are the main employers and contributors. The F-35, which is a fantastic aeroplane, is made in America, but 15% of the total value of that plane comes into Britain, enabling us to buy the planes ourselves.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the international nature of our defence industry. We have to be looking more and more at how we can develop partnerships with international businesses and, when we are looking at procurement decisions, how we can deliver not just best value for the MOD, but the very best for jobs here in the United Kingdom.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury about the awarding of contracts? The Treasury takes the view that the lowest price is the best way forward but, in many cases, money will come back to the Treasury straightaway in tax and national insurance contributions, so should not that be taken into account when we award contracts?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very thoughtful point about how we approach the whole defence procurement argument with regard to the real benefits to UK plc. We should start to look at this. There are different approaches in various countries, and Germany’s approach is quite different from the United Kingdom’s. We need to think about what lessons we could learn as a Government and what approaches we can adopt.

While we are developing new armoured vehicles, ships and planes, what progress is being made on exporting those platforms overseas?

One of the Department’s key aims and priorities is to promote prosperity for the whole United Kingdom, and a key element of that is exports. In the past 10 years, we have seen over £70 billion of exports. We have had the recent, very positive news of Qatar signing up to £5 billion for the Typhoon. Good progress is being made with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and further progress is being made with Belgium. We are in very detailed discussions with the Australian Government over Type 26 frigates, and we hope that we may be able to make some progress on persuading them to consider buying those in future.

Mr Speaker, let me join you in congratulating the Countess and Earl of Strathearn on the birth of a healthy child, especially today, on the feast day of George, the patron of England.

Will the Secretary of State join me and Scottish National party Members in welcoming NATO allies to Scotland for Exercise Joint Warrior? Beyond the all-too-rare sight of complex warships in Scottish waters, does he agree that this is a suitable time to remind ourselves of the centrality of the north Atlantic to the security of these islands? Will he reassure all hon. Members that that centrality will be reflected in the modernising defence review?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing unusual about British warships being all around the coast of the United Kingdom. Of course, we are very proud of the naval base at Clyde and the central role that it plays in our nuclear deterrence. We are conscious of the increasing threat that Russia poses in the north Atlantic, which is why we have been making investment, including in Poseidon aircraft and with the announcement of £132 million to be spent at RAF Lossiemouth. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) was able to join me at Lossiemouth just the other week to highlight that important investment.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. May I also associate SNP Members with his earlier comments about Sergeant Tonroe?

One of the ships in the Clyde—actually in Glasgow—last week was Her Danish Majesty’s ship Niels Juel which, like all frontline support ships of the Danish royal navy, was designed and built in Denmark. When small northern European countries of 5 million people can design and build all their naval support vessels at home, it is astonishing that this Government cannot—or maybe will not—do the same. Will the Secretary of State address the crucial issues of national security and taxpayer value that underline last week’s plea from shipbuilding unions?

At the moment, the Prince of Wales is under construction at Rosyth—that is a major investment—and our commitment to the eight Type 26 frigates is also to be celebrated. Just the other week, I was at Govan to see the major investment that we are making there. I thought the hon. Gentleman would celebrate that investment in Scottish shipbuilding, rather than trying to detract from it.

Mr Speaker, may I associate the loyal Opposition with your comments regarding the royal birth? We extend our condolences to the family of Sergeant Matt Tonroe.

Within the next few weeks, the Government will have to make the final decision on how to handle the order for the fleet solid support ships. Given that that huge contract could be worth 6,700 jobs for British shipyards, with huge benefits for the supply chain, does the Secretary of State accept that there is a very strong case for awarding the contract to British shipyards?

I thank Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition for their comments.

We have one of the greatest commitments to shipbuilding in this country, and we see that in terms of not only the Type 26, but the Type 31e. There is a great opportunity for shipyards right across the United Kingdom to take part in these contracts, and we will look at every stage at how we can do the very best for jobs and opportunities.