Defence Industry

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South 11:30 am, 8th February 2005

What estimate he has made of the number of jobs in Scotland which are dependent upon the defence industry.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The UK defence industry is very significant to the Scottish economy. The most recent figures suggest that an estimated 7,000 jobs in Scotland are directly related to Ministry of Defence equipment contracts, with a further 7,200 civilian personnel employed by the MOD and its agencies. Additionally, significant employment will be created indirectly by MOD activities in certain parts of Scotland.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

I thank my right hon. Friend for that comprehensive response. Does he accept that defence industry jobs are mostly high-skilled and high-tech, and give wonderful opportunities for apprenticeships for young men and women in Scotland? Has he made any assessment of the number of jobs that would be lost in Scotland if we decided to withdraw from NATO and our peacekeeping facilities around the world?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Withdrawing from NATO would not just be bad in terms of the UK's international obligations but—my hon. Friend is right—it would be devastating for the defence industry in Scotland. We know that the nationalists stand for the break-up of the British Army and the Royal Navy.

To take just one example, as was made clear yesterday, the Government want to proceed with the programme to build two large aircraft carriers. That will create jobs for more than 10,000 people in the United Kingdom—many of them at Govan and Rosyth, the MOD anticipates, provided that those yards come in with good bids. We expect that to be extremely important for Scotland. Withdrawing from NATO would be disastrous. So, too, would be the commitment by the Conservative party to cut £35 billion of public expenditure. That would be bound to cut defence procurement. We do not even have to speculate about that, as it is precisely what happened in the past when the Tories were last around, and allowed the resources available to the MOD to be run down because of their irresponsible economic attitude.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland)

Does the Secretary of State accept that defence jobs are as important for the highlands as they are for the south of Scotland? Recently, there has been much press speculation that the announcement yesterday of a physical integrator contract for the future carrier vessel would be accompanied by announcement of the physical integration site. As that was not the case, will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to assure the House, and my constituents in Nigg, that the criterion used for the selection of that site will be best value, and not, as the press suggested, a fix by the Treasury?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will, I understand, be issuing a written statement in about 20 minutes' time. He will say that we anticipate that, subject to value for money, the carriers could be built at four sites in the UK—Govan, Portsmouth, Tyneside and Rosyth. That will have to be subject to value for money, as the hon. Gentleman will accept. I fully accept that defence jobs are important wherever they are, but the general point is that if we are to safeguard the defence jobs that we need, first, we should remain part of the United Kingdom, because there is no way that such jobs would go to Scotland if the Royal Navy were broken up, as the nationalists advocate. Secondly, it is essential to maintain levels of public investment, yet the Conservatives are on record saying that they want to cut public investment to the tune of £35 billion. If that happens there are bound to be casualties. Among them would be the Army and the Navy—and Mr. Duncan has done nothing to refute that this morning.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East and Musselburgh

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the announcement of tranche 2 for the Eurofighter Typhoon just before Christmas was a hugely important boost to BAE Systems Avionics in Edinburgh, a provider of high quality jobs? Against that background, it was disappointing that the company announced 190 redundancies. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Secretary of State for Defence, in his discussions with BAE Systems, to ask the company to minimise those redundancies and ensure that they are voluntary?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I share my right hon. Friend's concern about the job losses announced in relation to some restructuring at BAE Systems, and I hope that the company will do everything it can to try to ensure the future employment of everyone concerned. He will also be aware of the fact that the Department of Trade and Industry has asked the Office of Fair Trading to look at the proposed sale of some of that business to an Italian company, but I very much hope that we can do everything possible to maintain those jobs, because they are very high-skilled, and the people who work in the industry have served Scotland and the industry very well.