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Defence Sector: UK-based Jobs

Volume 737: debated on Monday 11 September 2023

The latest estimates suggest that Ministry of Defence investment supports over 200,000 jobs in industries across the UK. I believe that the best way to keep growing jobs in defence is to back the British defence industry. That is why I am delighted to confirm that, this week in London, we are hosting the biggest ever DSEI—Defence and Security Equipment International—showcasing the very best of the British defence industry, with companies large and small. We should remember that they provide not only prosperity in every part of our country, but the means to defend ourselves in an increasingly contested world.

The Defence Secretary’s predecessor rightly prioritised British jobs over buying off-the-shelf from America, but The Times recently exposed a difference of opinion with the Prime Minister, who insisted on buying American helicopters. Can the Minister assure the House that the Secretary of State will stand up for British jobs and research and development, or is our only hope to replace him with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey)?

Debate is ongoing in defence procurement, and has been for many years, about the difference between buying off-the-shelf and having our own sovereign capability. The fact is that, until we brought out the defence and security industrial strategy in 2021, arguably the default position of the MOD was to go primarily for value for money. Since DSIS, we have a more flexible and balanced approach, seen in many specific procurements, where we give much greater weighting to social value and local content. This is illustrated in many procurements because, above all, we want to support British jobs and have our own sovereign capability.

My condolences to the Secretary of State.

Babcock is one of the largest defence employers in the country, but as reported in the Sunday press, its record on refits of surface ships is woeful. It took over four years to refit the Type 23 frigate HMS Iron Duke. Its record on submarines is even worse, taking seven years to refit a Trident boat. According to the journal Navy Lookout, which said this online, so presumably the Russians and the Chinese could have read it, a few weeks ago not a single one of our attack submarines was at sea; they were all tied up alongside. This is deeply embarrassing to the Department and to the Royal Navy, whose admirals are tearing their hair out. It is Babcock’s fault. Will Minister get the senior directors of Babcock into the Department for an interview without coffee, and ask them to raise their game for the benefit of the Navy and the defence of the realm?

I have the greatest respect for my right hon. Friend, but he will appreciate that we do not comment on the operational availability of submarines, which is a particularly sensitive matter. However, he is absolutely right that we need to focus on the time it is taking to bring ships and all aspects of our fleet back into service. I confirm that I regularly engage with Babcock, and I will visit Devonport very soon.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

The Government have wasted £15 billion through the mismanagement of defence procurement, while failing to deliver vital equipment and overseeing the loss of 30,000 highly skilled jobs in the defence and aerospace industry since 2010. Does the Minister accept that preventing another 13 years of Tory failure is key to increasing the number of UK-based jobs in the defence sector, backing British industry and British military resilience?

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new position as my ministerial shadow. We are very proud of our record, because in the past year or so we have been faced with a war on our doorstep in Europe, and procurement has risen to the occasion. Defence Equipment and Support in Abbey Wood has delivered kit to Ukraine in record speed. We have seen the acquisition of equipment such as the Archer on a quick basis, to fit our requirements. I absolutely confirm that we are committed to maximising the number of jobs that come from our procurement, while balancing that with the need to give our armed forces the best possible capability.