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MP responds to debate on defence aerospace


16th November 2017

Harriett Baldwin responds on behalf of the Government to a debate on defence aerospace industrial strategy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Harriett Baldwin)

It gives me great pleasure to respond to this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) on securing it. We have heard 14 interesting and compelling Back-Bench contributions, and I will start by picking up on some of the general themes that came from them.

Many hon. Members spoke out on behalf of the incredible work of the BAE workforce in their constituencies. There has been an urgent question on this subject in recent days. The decision was made by the company, and it is currently consulting the workforce. As the Department is its largest customer, I have been in discussions with the company, asking that it looks to avoid any compulsory redundancies. As an employer ourselves, we are also in ongoing discussions regarding staff with the right skills who could fit into our organisation.

On the subject of the unfortunately named MUFC—the maritime underwater future capability—there is no hon. Gentleman who speaks up more for his constituents than the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). However, I am sure that he would acknowledge that there is a very solid pipeline of work in his constituency for decades to come. That shows the amazing work of those who live and work in his constituency. The maritime underwater future capability project is still ongoing work, and he will have seen some of the wonderfully imaginative recent ideas.

Regarding the Hawk pipeline, I can reassure the House that we continue to work on export opportunities to Kuwait and India. The RAF has 28 of the T2 aircraft, and there is no risk to the Red Arrows. A number of colleagues mentioned the P-8 aircraft. The first of that capability will come into service in 2019, and will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in the north of Scotland, which will be good for the local economy. Some excellent UK companies are in the P-8 supply chain, including Marshall with the fuel tanks, Martin-Baker with the crew seats and General Electric with the weapons pylons.

Mr Kevan Jones

rose—

Harriett Baldwin

I will not take any interventions because there is so little time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke eloquently about the excellent Puma squadrons in his constituency. A number of colleagues asked about Typhoons. So far, just over 500 Typhoons have been built, and they are in service and have been ordered by nine countries around the world. There is still a significant pipeline of Typhoons to be built, and the statement of intent was signed with Qatar. Of course, the Government are working as hard as possible to ensure that those and the 12 Hawk aircraft are on contract by the end of the year.​

Contributions from across the House have shown that not a corner of our great country is untouched by the nationwide enterprise that is defence aerospace. Indeed, we have a rising defence budget overall, and the strategic defence and security review in 2015 set out a £178 billion equipment plan for the next decade. In the last year for which we have the recorded numbers, 2015-16, the MOD had a spend of over £2 billion with UK aerospace, and that directly sustained over 7,000 jobs. In fact, I am delighted to be able to announce today that we have awarded Babcock three new contracts, worth £160 million, to provide RAF bases across the country with expert support.

As we heard in today’s debate, aerospace strikes a real chord with the British public, and we have heard some key reasons for that. There is obviously the historical connection and the fact that we have 100 years of the RAF coming up in the next year. We also know that our country would be a very different place were it not for the immense intervention of air power in world war one and particularly during the battle of Britain in world war two.

The current crop of aerospace experts in the UK has a worldwide leadership reputation. We have some of the most technically advanced and capable aerospace companies in the world. Aerospace is an engine of local and national prosperity. Up to 2,500 UK companies are involved in it, and it generates more than £33 billion of turnover, employing more than 120,000 people, including 26,000 just in research, design and engineering. Interestingly, more than 80% of the sector’s production is exported. Of the £64 billion brought into this country through defence-related exports in the last decade, 85% was generated by aerospace, and much of that was from the combat air sector.

Crucially, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North mentioned, we are using our kit in places such as Iraq today. A combination of our Tornados and Typhoons has helped to bring Daesh to its knees and liberated millions of people from an evil death cult. I am sure hon. Members will want to join me in paying tribute to all the brave men and women who are currently serving in our aircrews on deployment.

We are absolutely right to celebrate the aerospace sector, but we also need to talk about the future. The Typhoon has been selected by nine national air forces, and we are currently pursuing exports to Bahrain, Belgium, Finland, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Qatar. Other Typhoon nations are also pursuing export opportunities to other countries.

On the export pipeline, we are looking ahead not just one or two years. We need to look decades ahead, because we know our Typhoon aircraft will go out of service in 2040. The 2015 SDSR allocated a substantial budget over 10 years to the future combat air system technology initiative, precisely to protect and develop key design and engineering skills in our industrial base. The money includes funding for a national technology programme to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in this area. Some of the work to mature other high-end technologies is with France, and some is with the US.

The decision on the future of combat air will require us to decide at some stage to replace the capabilities currently delivered by the Eurofighter Typhoon. It will be a complex decision, involving a clear military requirement ​and requiring detailed consideration of the industrial and financial implications. In terms of the timing, the decision will be made in the very early 2020s or sooner to enable a maingate decision on the procurement in or around 2025.

In conclusion, this is a key sector, and we have had a good debate highlighting a number of the issues in it. Our approach to the defence aerospace industry should be about an overall industry strategy, taking into account the business leaders, the educators, the representatives, the unions and the local economy. We must ensure that, whatever the dangers to come, the great industry we have been discussing today flies even higher, faster and further in the future.

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