BAE Systems

Part of Backbench Business — [Un-allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 24th November 2011.

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Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 12:50 pm, 24th November 2011

That is absolutely right. That is why we wanted a debate in the House with a motion setting that out, because that is precisely the message we need to put out. As I will say later, that is precisely what other serious manufacturing companies are doing.

Four countries are affected by the decision to slow delivery of the Typhoon, but only BAE in the UK has reacted by throwing highly skilled engineers out of work and abolishing a manufacturing plant. Although the company says that its announcement was forced by the slow-down in orders for the Typhoon, almost a third of the job losses are for the Hawk, an aircraft that remains popular around the world. Orders are imminent from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq and the United States, and potential orders are imminent from Poland, Kuwait and the RAF in a few years’ time. When we and others, including the unions, have asked the company what will happen if they get an order for 10, 50,100 or 150 Hawks next week—this relates closely to the point that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden made about the 90-day process—its reaction has been that nothing would change. Our suspicion is that is because there is a view that it will not be the other side of the Pennines that benefits from extra Hawk orders, but Texas, India and manufacturing plants abroad.

When the unions have berated BAE on the effects on British manufacturing and pointed out that it is an important British manufacturing company, it has replied that it is not a manufacturing company, but an engineering company that chooses to manufacture, the implication being that that is the choice it has made at the moment but might not make in future. In no other major industrialised country in Europe would a company that has spent much of the past decade moaning about skills shortages be getting rid of some of the most highly skilled people in the country. In no other major industrialised country would a company whose biggest customer is the Government and whose biggest investor historically has been the taxpayer be causing such damage to a precious sector of the economy.

There is an alternative approach. Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, another British manufacturer that sells its products abroad, lambasts British businesses that turn themselves into “mid-Atlantic floating entities” with no connection to society. He says that his company has given a lot to Britain, but that Britain has given a lot to his company and that it would not exist without the work of British people and the support of the British Government. He is busy returning manufacturing jobs from abroad to this country. He says that his objective is to give more jobs, provide more skills and pay more taxes in Britain. It is a shame that other iconic international British companies do not follow the same philosophy.