Defence Aerospace Employment

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 14th November 2005.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 2:30 pm, 14th November 2005

If he will make a statement on employment trends in the defence aerospace industry.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

The worldwide trend in the defence aerospace industry is towards more capable, multi-role aircraft with an implied requirement for smaller but more highly skilled work forces. Our aim is to ensure that the UK has access to the industrial capabilities and skills needed to meet future defence aerospace requirements, and the work on the defence industrial strategy is focusing on how best to achieve that.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Is the Minister as concerned as me about the American Government's increasing tendency to favour American firms when awarding aerospace contracts? That will obviously happen to some extent, but it is happening at an increasing rate, and it is damaging employment in my area, which depends on the aerospace industry. Has he discussed the matter with the American Government, and if not, will he do so, because it is becoming much more important?

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are fully aware of the matter. We are in discussions with much of industry on developing the defence industrial strategy, to which I alluded in my initial response. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made our views plain when he met the American Secretary of State and Defence Secretary last week. We are fully apprised of the problem, which we will keep on the agenda and which we will keep raising.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

My hon. Friend is well aware of the highly skilled work force based in Lancashire at Warton and Samlesbury, who look forward to more work, if the Government can negotiate on the joint strike fighter. The intellectual waiver is still under discussion and we believe that a greater work share may come out of those talks. Where are we up to in the talks, and will he ensure that the work force is not let down?

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence continued to press the matter when he was in Washington last week. We believe that UK industry is well placed to win further substantial orders during the full-rate manufacture of the JSF. We will certainly keep the matter in mind in all our discussions with our American allies and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of State will raise it when they next meet our American colleagues.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Further to the question put by Mr. Hoyle, will the Minister be more specific? Will he tell the House what work his Department has done to follow up the RAND Europe report on the possibility of opening a final assembly, checkout and maintenance unit at BAE Systems Warton, which is in my constituency, to build the JSF combat aircraft? In that context, what discussions has the Minister had with the American Government about releasing the necessary technologies to make such a project a reality?

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

I cannot add much to my previous responses. We are pressing at every level to ensure that the interests of British industry, British manufacturers, the British defence industry and the British defence requirement are on the agenda when we meet our American allies. Those matters are not off our radar at any time whatsoever.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson PPS (Mr Stephen Timms, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

In looking to the longer term in the aerospace industry, should not we actively encourage more young people to consider a career in engineering and take up apprenticeships? I particularly praise the work of BAE Systems, which is working with Kelvin Hall school in my constituency to encourage boys and girls alike to think positively about a career in the aerospace industry. Does the Minister agree that that is a positive way forward?

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Veterans), Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

Yes, I share that view entirely. We do not value engineers as highly as we should. We tend to think of it as being a dirty-hands job, whereas most parents want their kids to have clean-hands jobs. However, engineering is not like that nowadays. I pay tribute to a great deal of British industry for encouraging and taking on more apprentices. We must do that, because they are our seed corn for the future. I would support any initiative, as does the MOD, to encourage defence suppliers to take on as many apprentices as possible and train our people with the skills that they desperately need for the job that we face in future.