Advanced manufacturing industry in the UK makes such an important contribution to defence and the armed forces. We have recently concluded public consultation on the Green Paper “Equipment, Support and Technology for UK Defence and Security”, in which we make it clear that the purpose of defence procurement is to deliver the capabilities that the armed forces need, now and in the future. We will set out our future policy on the issue in a White Paper later in the year.
Last month BAE Systems announced 100 job losses at its plant in Scotswood, Newcastle. As well as devastating families, those job losses will reduce our advanced engineering skills base. What specific measures is the Minister taking to ensure that procurement supports skills that are essential to our national infrastructure, and how do they sit with the Government’s policy of buying off the shelf without taking industrial needs into account?
The hon. Lady tempts me to pre-judge the outcome of my own consultation, which I must not do, but let me say this: I share her passion for advanced manufacturing and I again pay tribute to its role in defence. We are committed to both a vigorous promotion of exports and boosting UK defence companies in the UK, and to boosting the work of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are innovative and bring new ideas and skills to defence. We are also committed to maintaining the science budget, as called for in response to our consultation by all those advanced manufacturing companies of which she spoke. We are doing a lot to help advanced manufacturing, but the hon. Lady will have to be a little more patient and wait until the White Paper is published.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Government spending on defence research and technology is absolutely essential for maintaining the battle-winning edge for our armed forces in 25 years’ time? Does he also agree that if there is a reduction in defence research because of short-term budget pressures, the long-term effect will be very great indeed?
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I could not agree more. I can confirm what I have said to him in the past: the budget for science and technology will increase in cash terms over the comprehensive spending review period. However, I share his enthusiasm about ensuring that we maintain future capabilities as well. It is very important that the science budget is not simply focused on current operations. It must be forward looking, too, to ensure that we have the capabilities that we need.
The Minister will be aware that there is considerable concern that the Government might be planning to announce an extremely limited definition of what constitutes sovereign capability in their forthcoming White Paper, meaning that in many important sectors the Government will retreat to their default position and, to quote the Government’s Green Paper,
“to buy off-the-shelf where we can”.
Will the Minister assure the House that the White Paper will be an opportunity to set a clear strategy to use defence procurement to support our manufacturing base, in particular the intellectual property here in the United Kingdom, thus recognising the contribution that defence makes to the wider economy?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that specific assurance. Defence money is for defence purposes, but I share his enthusiasm for the defence industrial base. I understand exactly what he says. We will be scrupulously honest with the British people and UK defence companies. I am afraid that although the previous defence industrial strategy was immensely popular, it did not have the money to match its promises. We will deliver what we promise.