Gagan Mohindra – 2022 Parliamentary Question on Supporting Defence Jobs

The parliamentary question asked by Gagan Mohindra, the Conservative MP for South West Hertfordshire, in the House of Commons on 12 December 2022.

Mr Gagan Mohindra (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)

What steps his Department is taking to support defence jobs in the UK.

Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)

What steps his Department is taking to support defence jobs in the UK.

The Minister for Defence Procurement (Alex Chalk)

The most recent estimate shows that Ministry of Defence investment supports 219,000 jobs in industries across the United Kingdom. Continued high and focused investment in defence, along with the changes that we continue to make as part of our defence and security industrial strategy, will contribute to further economic growth and prosperity across the Union.

Mr Mohindra

I thank the Minister for that answer. Ahead of Armistice Day last month, I was contacted by Northwood military headquarters in my constituency to help organise a tour of this place for the submarine service. I thank Captain James Clark and Conservative Friends of the Armed Forces for their help in making that happen. Does the Minister agree that during this time of global turbulence we should do all we can to support and champion the members of our armed forces?

Alex Chalk

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to him for taking the time to visit the Northwood military headquarters. There are 1,600 active service personnel at Northwood HQ, and their work is crucial to protecting our people, territories, values and interests at home and overseas. He is right to pay tribute to them, and I join him in that.

Antony Higginbotham

Thanks to this Secretary of State for Defence, Lancashire is home to the newest part of the armed forces, the National Cyber Force. That brings huge opportunities to our county, not only through the thousands of armed forces personnel who will eventually be stationed there, but with the cyber-security companies that we hope will cluster around the site in the years ahead. To really seize the opportunity, however, we need to ensure that we give local people the skills they need to join the NCF or other cyber-security businesses. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what steps we can take to ensure that the MOD supports the growth of its cyber-cluster, centred on the NCF, and the links between the NCF and local education providers?

Alex Chalk

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the close interest he has taken in the establishment of the National Cyber Force in Samlesbury, which has cemented the north-west’s position as a key UK cyber-cluster. He will be aware that last week we announced the trilateral international partnership between the UK, Japan and Italy to develop next-generation Tempest fighters, which will also benefit the north-west. He is absolutely right that, with regard to skills, we need to encourage the creation of local partnerships between Government, industry and universities. I am pleased to note that Lancaster University has announced a £19 million investment in data and cyber-security research, teaching and innovation. I would, of course, be delighted to meet him.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)

The Defence Committee recently had before us representatives from Boeing, which has been awarded some £6 billion-worth of contracts in recent years. A representative confirmed that Boeing directly employs only 1,600 people in the UK. Does the Minister not agree that that is a pretty poor return on the investment and that it certainly would not be the case in the United States?

Alex Chalk

I met Boeing recently, and we are always keen to see investment in the UK. We are absolutely delighted that, because of the pipeline of investment that the Government have commissioned—from ships to cyber to space—we are investing in jobs and capability, and we are ensuring that we take expertise from wherever it is in the world, securing jobs in this country.

Mr Speaker

I call the shadow Secretary of State.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)

We welcome the Government’s commitment to job creation; the problem is that they are creating jobs abroad, including in Spain. The Defence Secretary has just picked a Spanish firm to build the Royal Navy’s three new fleet support ships. At least 40% of that work will go abroad and the best that the Defence Secretary could tell the Scottish Affairs Committee the other day was that the contractor will

“fully assemble the final ship in a UK yard.”

As a result of the Defence Secretary’s decision, how many jobs will be created in Spain and not in the UK?

Alex Chalk

Respectfully, I completely reject the tenor of that question. We should be celebrating the fact that, as a result of the commitment that we are making to UK shipbuilding, there will be 2,000 jobs in the UK and there will be shipbuilding industries in Appledore and in Northern Ireland. That comes on top of the 1,700 jobs secured as a result of the Type 26, the 3,000 jobs as a result of cyber investment and further jobs in respect of the future combat air system. This Government are investing in defence, in shipbuilding, in land, in sea and in air. We will continue to do exactly that.

John Healey

Well, the Minister told me in answer to a parliamentary question that the

“number of jobs sustained in Spain…is a matter for the contractor”.

We could have had 100% of the jobs in Britain. This is a dodgy decision, whichever way we view it. On 21 November, I received confirmation in a written answer that the prime contractor for this £1.6 billion contract will be a company that was registered only in May, with no trading history, with capital of just £10,000 and with two directors, both living in Spain. What guarantees can the Minister give the British taxpayer and the Royal Navy that this contract will not betray British jobs and UK industry?

Alex Chalk

What I genuinely do not understand is why the Opposition are not welcoming a deal that is bringing more than £70 million into Belfast, securing jobs in the shipbuilding industry in this country and ensuring, by the way, that the base of industrial support goes beyond the traditional Scottish yards to include yards in Belfast and, indeed, in Appledore. That is good news. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s point about other countries playing a role, let us not forget that one of the great successful procurements is the F-35. That is an American plane—of course it is—but who produces 15% of the components? The United Kingdom does. That is exactly what happens in these sorts of contracts, and it gets value for money for taxpayers.

Mr Speaker

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)

All credit to Babcock—maybe the Minister will join me in congratulating it—for securing the Natural Environmental Research Council’s £45 million fleet renewal programme. Of course, Babcock and BAE should be gearing up to do 100% of the fleet solid support ships in a distributed model across the UK, but they are not, because this Tory Government have awarded a £1.6 billion contract for three ships to Navantia in Spain. When Sir John Parker, in his national shipbuilding strategy—[Interruption]—maybe the Secretary of State could pipe down a second. When Sir John Parker stressed that the Ministry of Defence should embrace smart procurement, invest in yards and apprenticeships, and commission ships with an eye to export, did the Government realise that he was talking about yards in the UK, not in Spain?

Alex Chalk

I listened very carefully to that question but, with respect, we will not take lectures from an SNP Government who put a ship in the water in 2017—a ferry that has now failed to be developed. We are proud that we have got behind the Type 26, which is benefiting the Scottish economy, and indeed the British economy, with an additional 2,000 jobs as a result of the five vessels that we have continued to commission. This Government are investing in broad-based maritime capacity in this country, now and in the future, and developing our capability here in Britain.

Dave Doogan

We hear all the time about the strength of the Union for orders into Scottish yards, but Scotland, still stuck in this necrotic Union, loses out no matter what happens, when this Secretary of State awards work to Cádiz that should have gone to the UK—it’s heads, the UK wins; tails, Scotland loses. I wish Appledore in Devon and Harland and Wolff in Belfast all the best, but without the requisite workforce or skills, they are simply the Union flag gift-wrapping that this Defence Secretary has given to the Spanish shipbuilding industry. I ask the Government and the increasingly ridiculously titled shipbuilding tsar: contrary to his own claims, when the bulk of this work is delivered in Spain, will this Secretary of State and his ministerial team resign?

Alex Chalk

It is very important that the House is not misled in any way. It is not the case that the bulk will be built in Spain. Quite the opposite: the majority will be built in the United Kingdom. All the assembly and all the integration will happen here in the United Kingdom. I hope the hon. Gentleman will celebrate the fact that the Type 26, built in Scotland, secures 1,700 jobs and includes the potential for exports. Govan, Rosyth, Scotstoun—all those yards are being nurtured and supported by the power and might of the UK Union. That means that Scotland’s place is better in the Union, and the British Union is advantaged as well.