It is a great honour to follow Mark Hendrick, who I know cares passionately about the jobs of the work force at Warton and Samlesbury, as I do. I thank Alan Johnson and my right hon. Friend Mr Davis for securing this afternoon’s very important debate. None of us wishes we were having it, because we know only too well the impact that the job losses have had on our constituencies—not just the loss of skills, but the impact on communities and their economies.
I am very proud to be the Member of Parliament for Fylde, and for the headquarters of BAE Systems manufacturing at Warton. Warton has a proud record not just of building the Typhoon but of developing the unmanned aerial combat vehicle programme and of building the Tornado, so I wish to focus many of my comments on it.
Warton and Samlesbury truly have one of the most highly skilled work forces that I have ever had the privilege to meet. They are truly world-class, and for generations they have designed and built some of the world’s finest military aircraft. One needs look no further than Operation Ellamy in Libya to see their quality. It is no surprise that many of the world’s air forces are now looking to BAE’s aircraft to form the backbone of their capability.
When I visited the Warton site last Wednesday, I was reminded that the people there are more than capable of taking on any challenge that is thrown at them. I take this opportunity to invite right hon. and hon. Members to come with me to the site to meet the unions, speak with the management and see the quality of what takes place there. I have the utmost confidence that whereas the reorganisation that is taking place at Brough means huge devastation and disruption to people there, the transfer of work from Brough to Warton and Samlesbury will be done with the utmost excellence. I know that the work force at Warton and Samlesbury would do no less.
Warton and Samlesbury is the centre of excellence not for one area but for nine, which is reflected in the training and innovation that the work force there have built up there over the years. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the unions for the constructive way in which they have engaged in a dialogue with me and other local Members over a long period. They are practical, pragmatic and an excellent example of a group of people who do everything with their members’ best interests truly at heart.
It was my privilege to meet some BAE Systems apprentices two weeks ago at the Imperial War museum, and I am pleased that it is doing everything it can to support those young workers in their bright futures. On several occasions in the past year, I have also had the privilege to meet trade unions from Brough, and I know that the loss of the Hawk work will have come as a bitter blow to them. It is important that all Members do everything they can to ensure that the work force there are given every assistance to find alternative employment that reflects their skills. I take on board some of the comments that Opposition Members have made about how we can use those skills in the civil aviation industry, and no stone should be left unturned in that field.
From a Government perspective, it is very important that we work tirelessly to ensure that we secure exports for the Typhoon and the Hawk. Nothing is won until it is won, and we should be careful about pouring cold water on some aspects of the work share agreement, because we have not won any of the contracts yet. I ask the Minister to consider options for bringing some of the deep maintenance work that is currently done on RAF bases to Warton, and whether that would provide potential stop-gap employment. I also ask him to get some of the multinational agreements on the unmanned aerial combat vehicle that are currently being discussed buttoned down, with finance arrangements in place. It is important that the work force and BAE systems can plan strategically for the future.
Time is against me, but I wish to say that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle is absolutely right in identifying the considerable support that successive UK Governments have provided to BAE Systems over the years. Now, BAE Systems has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to UK manufacturing by attracting some of the key component manufacturers to the new enterprise zones that have been set up on both sides of the Pennines. The work force at BAE Systems are truly the best of British, and it is important that both the company and the Government leave no stone unturned in putting their skills to future use.