BAE Systems

Part of Backbench Business — [Un-allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 1:03 pm on 24th November 2011.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 1:03 pm, 24th November 2011

Yes. In fact, there has already been discussion with the National Audit Office about aspects of the single-source regulations. My right hon. Friend makes a very important point and I welcome what he said about that in his speech. It is very helpful indeed to have those remarks on the record.

The scope of Lord Currie’s review covers not just rationalisation and redundancy costs but a whole range of other issues associated with the process. He made his views clear on that in the document he produced, which states:

“We do not recommend moving away from the requirement that the MOD should bear the redundancy and restructuring costs associated with programme curtailment or cancellation. The alternative, whereby the contract bears such costs, would be appreciably more expensive. Faced with the possibility of bearing such costs, the contractor would necessarily need to price in a significant, possibly prohibitive, risk premium into contracts against that eventuality, over which it has little or no influence.”

Let us put those observations on liabilities in a BAE Systems context. The Brough site has historically been used for a variety of purposes, including the manufacture of the Hawk advanced jet trainers. It also has a structural testing facility used for a number of different airframes, and has been involved in the manufacture of some Nimrod MRA4 and Typhoon parts.

Some of those projects were procured on a single source basis, but many of them were not. In the course of normal business, BAE Systems has approached us to begin discussions on payment for a share of its rationalisation and redundancy costs at Brough. We will ascertain what proportion, if any, of those costs we should be liable for under the yellow book framework. I can assure the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden that our negotiations will be robust in defence of taxpayers’ interests. I am very grateful for their support in that process.

We also recognise that the Government’s procurement decisions directly impact inward investment and exportability. Our involvement as the only level 1 partner in the joint strike fighter programme has brought significant high-end work into BAE System’s Samlesbury facility and, indeed, to UK industry more widely. That site manufactures the joint strike fighter rear fuselage for Lockheed Martin, in respect not only of the UK order but of orders from the US and other international clients. That production run should continue until at least 2035 and, on current plans, supply 3,000 aircraft. Following that, the UK should be very well placed to win additional competitively placed work within the JSF production support programme, potentially valued at £30 billion. Similarly, Government investment in the assessment phase of the electronically scanned radar for Typhoon will enable a capability leap for the Typhoon fleet. That not only benefits UK armed forces well into the 21st century, but improves Typhoon’s chances of success in the highly competitive, fast-jet market.

One issue that has not been raised is the fact that the letter from BAE Systems to hon. Members alludes to the withdrawal of the Harrier aircraft, but it does not provide the context and detail for that decision. In the bipartisan spirit of today, I shall simply say that we had a very challenging financial situation at the MOD and leave it at that. It is also true that the previous Government took the decision to delete the Sea Harrier in 2006, which is the air defence aircraft. In 2009, they took a subsequent decision to reduce the size of the remaining Harrier fleet, which meant it was not large enough to achieve sustained operations in Afghanistan and maintain an adequate contingent capability for the unexpected on its own. A combined fleet of Tornado and Harrier would not be cost-effective, because retiring an aircraft type delivers significantly greater savings than running two smaller fleets.

Although the withdrawal of the Harrier was a decision we took with regret, it was effectively forced upon us. Despite that sorry affair, we have worked hard to make the most of the situation. I can tell the House today that we have agreed the sale of the final 72 Harrier aircraft frames and associated parts, which will be used as a major source of spares to support the US Marine Corps Harrier AV-8B fleet of aircraft. The value of the sale is $180 million—some £110 million—and represents a good deal for UK taxpayers and the US Government. Added to the savings made from retiring the Harrier fleet from service, that sale takes the total estimated receipts and savings to the Ministry of Defence to around £1 billion. That will enable investment in a more modern and capable mixed fast-jet fleet, including the state-of-the-art joint strike fighter and therefore be good for British jobs.

The Harrier was a marvellous piece of technology and demonstrates the UK’s significant contribution to the development of fixed-wing aviation. I pay tribute to all those who contributed to its design and manufacture, as well as to our service personnel who flew and supported them. Accordingly, I am pleased to announce that we plan to offer two Harrier aircraft to museums in order to preserve the UK’s aviation heritage.

On the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden about the overseas production of British aircraft, conditions in the international marketplace do influence commercial choices and outcomes —it is not just a matter of what the Government say. It is increasingly unavoidably the case that export customers are demanding that their orders be satisfied mostly or wholly by means of local production and technology transfer. There is often a need to satisfy that critical condition in order to secure an order. That is certainly a feature of many of the potential Typhoon and Hawk export orders. My right hon. Friend regrets it—I may regret it, too—but it is a fact of life. If we want to win business, this is the way we have to do business.

The insistence on local involvement by the customer becomes even more likely and significant with larger export orders. The choice is to offer that condition or not to compete for the contract at all. That would reduce the viability of the businesses themselves and would be bad for UK employment. Last year’s deal to sell 57 Hawk to India was worth several hundred millions of pounds for UK companies, even though the final assembly was in India itself, so it is good for both sides of a vital strategic partnership for this country.

However, we also fully recognise our responsibility to those whose livelihoods are threatened by changes in the market. Work will continue for some time at Brough and the Skills and Jobs Retention Group and the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service will assist skilled workers there and at the other sites in finding new roles.