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Volume 743: debated on Monday 8 January 2024

I am pleased to confirm that we have made significant progress in developing the AUKUS partnership. The AUKUS defence ministerial meeting last month announced a range of tri-national activities taking forward advanced capabilities, including our deep space advanced radar capability, DARC. Australian personnel are training in the UK and the US, and £4 billion-worth of contracts have been awarded to UK companies building SSN-AUKUS. Finally, Congress passed legislation to enable AUKUS to facilitate frictionless trade between partners, including the reform of the international traffic in arms regulations.

The Secretary of State, together with the Australian Prime Minister, was recently welcomed at Rolls-Royce Raynesway in my constituency as part of the AUKUS preparations. I am sure the Minister would also be welcomed, if he can find time in his schedule for a visit. Two years ago, Rolls-Royce opened its doors to the UK’s first nuclear skills academy, which takes on 200 apprentices annually and trains them to become nuclear engineers. Has the Minister considered how the Government can work with Rolls-Royce to further the UK’s nuclear skills capacity?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her excellent question and I would be delighted to visit Raynesway. Last August, I was pleased to announce the launch of the nuclear skills taskforce, jointly with the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). The taskforce will drive activity through a coherent action plan, bringing together Government, academia and employers, crucially from across both civil and defence nuclear sectors, including from Rolls-Royce. It will build on existing work to address the skills challenge across the nuclear sector and will bolster our ability to deliver on our commitments made under the AUKUS defence partnership.

AUKUS has strong support from across the House, but although the time scales seem very long, in reality there is growing concern in the defence community that they may already be slipping, often because of bureaucratic inertia. What is being done to keep this vital project on track? How often is the Minister meeting his officials to monitor and chase progress?

I am not aware of any slippage. We meet frequently and discuss this incredibly important matter. I am pleased to hear his confidence that AUKUS has cross-party support. It is generating huge numbers of jobs for the future: an additional 1,700 jobs will be created in Raynesway to build the reactors for the UK and Australia. It is an incredibly exciting project and we are 100% committed to it.

Let me make clear that AUKUS pillar 1 and pillar 2 have Labour’s full backing. However, we are concerned about whether the Government’s current focus on implementing AUKUS is sufficient and we want more UK leadership for this national endeavour. The latest list of ministerial responsibilities, from October 2023, does not even mention AUKUS or Australia, although it does mention the USA. Ministers have agreed that pillar 1 should have only a part-time official responsible for its implementation. If AUKUS is not even in his job description and his officials are working on it part time, how can we take the Minister seriously when he says it is important?

The way we take it seriously is not by judging the number of officials or what we are doing in that regard, but by looking at what we are actually delivering in the real world in terms of military capability and for British industry. As I just said, the US has reformed ITAR and there are thousands of jobs across the UK, boosting our Indo-Pacific capabilities. This is an extremely important project. We are making huge progress and the Government are very proud of the partnership.