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Defence Jobs

Volume 711: debated on Monday 28 March 2022

Recent estimates shows MOD investment supporting over 200,000 jobs across the UK. Continued investment in defence, along with the changes we are making as part of the defence and security industrial strategy, will contribute to further economic growth and prosperity, including jobs, across the Union.

BAE Systems at RAF Valley in my constituency of Ynys Môn is hoping to hear news about a long-term contract, providing security to hundreds of workers. These are high-value jobs that underpin our sovereign UK defence capability. These technical and engineering roles provide maintenance to the RAF Hawk T2 fleet and support our future fighter pilots. Does my hon. Friend agree that this forthcoming contract is great news for Anglesey and great news for our UK security in these challenging times?

I cannot comment on specific contracts, but I can confirm that those are indeed high-value jobs performing an important role for our armed forces. My hon. Friend has been assiduous in pushing the case for defence jobs in her constituency, and I hope to be making an announcement shortly.

Does the Minister agree that the current dreadful situation in Ukraine means that we need to be very focused on our defence supply chains, buying and using British where possible and further supporting the economies of areas such as Redcar and Cleveland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We were already focused on securing our critical defence supply chains, but DSIS has provided renewed impetus. Specifically on steel, as he mentions his home patch, it is for the prime contractors to place orders but they are all flagged well in advance with UK industry. Unfortunately, there are occasions—we have had this recently—when specific types of steel that we require are not being produced in the UK. I would urge UK manufacturers to really explore these opportunities. We are very keen to see them do so.

The Minister will be familiar with the company Score in my constituency. It is a major supplier of valves across different industries, including for naval vessels. May I invite him to see for himself the fantastic facilities, technology and expertise, including the award-winning apprenticeship schemes, utilised by the single largest employer in my constituency of Banff and Buchan?

Our increase in naval procurement benefits jobs throughout the UK. I am delighted to hear of the Score Group’s apprenticeship scheme to build talent for the future and I am keen to visit. The UK Government’s shipbuilding programme is proving a great success in supporting Scottish jobs unlike, it appears, that of other Governments with which my hon. Friend, as a Scottish Member, may be familiar.

Given the MOD’s recently acquired stake in Sheffield Forgemasters, I know that my hon. Friend understands the important role of the UK steel industry in our national security. What consideration has he given to the opportunities for greater integration and collaboration on defence manufacturing between Sheffield Forgemasters and other steel producers, such as Stocksbridge’s Speciality Steel in my constituency, which he is also welcome to visit? That collaboration could benefit jobs and security.

I am aware of the company in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We took the unusual decision—it is unusual—to acquire Sheffield Forgemasters to secure its unique capability to supply specialist large-scale, high-integrity steel components, which are vital to defence programmes. Ultimately, it is for companies to manage commercial decisions for their future, but to improve engagement, the Business Secretary reformed the UK Steel Council in 2021, which offers a forum for the Government, industry and trade unions to work in partnership on what is absolutely a shared objective for UK steel to have a competitive and sustainable future.

The Aircraft Research Association in Bedford is the only UK-based facility capable of testing our future military aircraft and components, but it is at risk of closure due to the change in electricity costs. Ofgem has stated that only the Government can introduce an exemption scheme to save the company and prevent the UK being reliant on foreign states to test our aircraft. Will the Minister urgently meet me and the ARA to discuss a way forward that protects our national security?

I am willing to meet the hon. Gentleman if that is helpful. I warn him that we are aware of the situation and of the capabilities that we need. I am happy to meet him and speak to him and I will take it from there.

Many hon. Members have been surprised or enlightened by the performance of the Bayraktar TB2 in Ukraine. What sort of message does that send to UK strategy and procurement?

Happily, we were ahead of the game. It is part of the discussion that we had as part of the integrated review. There are active processes in place to test UAVs—unmanned aerial vehicles—and counter-UAV technologies. We are aware of them. This conflict and previous ones have thrown into sharp relief how effective those weapon systems can be.

I have some important manufacturers that supply the defence sector, such as David Brown Santasalo and Reliance Precision, that would like to know what the future of their business is, given that the Government are going to reduce the size of our armed forces to 72,000 and that last week’s mini-Budget gave no extra funding to defence. If Vladimir Putin is watching the parliamentary channel, what does the Minister think he will be thinking?

I do not know whether Mr Putin is watching us today; I would like to say some robust things if he is. I give some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman: last time I visited David Brown Santasalo, it was hard at work on components for the Type 26, to which programme we are committed, as he knows, and on many export orders. It is hard at work producing really valuable bits of kit for the UK and in due course, I hope, our allies.

UK shipbuilding accounts for 42,600 jobs, yet the Government continue to fail to protect that vital industry and those highly skilled jobs by refusing to build British by default. Can the Minister give me one good reason why we cannot guarantee that all future naval ships procured by this Government will be built in Britain using British steel?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman many more than one good reason for why we have the strategy that we do. To name one, let us look at Type 31, which is a fantastic British export success to Poland and Indonesia; I am convinced that there will be others in due course. It was built with the support of an international consortium and we got the best in the world. It is now based firmly in the UK with a lot of it in the UK supply chain, which is giving the best opportunity for UK jobs and for UK shipbuilders to thrive internationally and competitively.