I speak in this debate both as a member of the Defence Committee and a constituency Member who has an interest in the future of BAE Systems. There is a plant in Hillend in south Fife that employs more than 200 BAE workers and makes radar components for the Typhoon aircraft.
This has been a remarkably consensual debate. I have a positive view of BAE Systems; it does a tremendous amount of good work in my constituency. Last week I visited the Abbeyview day centre; for its 25th anniversary, BAE gave it a grant of about £1,800 to allow it to continue to provide support to our older citizens, many of whom are pensioners who previously worked at BAE.
James Wharton talked about buying off the shelf. I believe BAE, along with many other defence industry companies, produces some first-rate exports. The Typhoon aircraft proved itself superbly during Operation Ellamy in the skies above Libya, and we look forward to the arrival of the F-35 Lightning II. It is worth noting that the Lightning I, which was made by one of the predecessors of BAE
Systems, BAC, was the finest jet aircraft of its generation and a testament to what British aeronautical engineering can achieve.
The Defence Committee did, however, have some concerns about the ongoing cost issues in respect of the F35. Those concerns are shared by our colleagues in the Senate Armed Services Committee. We have communicated those concerns to the Minister, and I have discussed them with him on several occasions. I know that he is committed to ensuring that BAE Systems and other companies do not allow costs to ramp up beyond control. The Defence Committee welcomes the Minister’s response to our last report. He announced that some of the Ministry of Defence’s best minds are currently working on the F-35 procurement programme.
It is disappointing that not a single Scottish National party Member has taken part in this debate. One might speculate that that is because they are part-timers, or because the SNP would, in its separate Scotland, destroy the defence industry in Scotland. Members on both sides of the House have talked about the value of jobs, and it is worth remembering that there are more than 4,000 BAE Systems employees on the Clyde working on shipbuilding. I have a number of BAE Systems staff working at Rosyth on the aircraft carrier Alliance, alongside their Babcock colleagues. They are engaged in ship assembly and refitting work. Those jobs would be lost in a separate Scotland. The SNP has offered no alternative to that.
Nor has the SNP explained what the future of the RAF or a Scottish air force would be. It has given no idea of the type or size of the Scottish air force. One can only assume it will not be buying any F-35s. It has said nothing about how many Typhoon aircraft it would purchase. We can only assume from that lack of information that it does not see a future for BAE Systems in Scotland, and that it would not offer any defence work to companies such as Babcock and BAE.
The fact that this has been a consensual debate is to be welcomed. In that spirit, I hope the Minister will promise to work with the trade unions in making the case for the defence industry in the UK. It is important that we continue to have exports around the world and that the Ministry of Defence sees part of its role as maintaining the business model for companies such as BAE Systems and Babcock. The MOD should be proactively going out and selling the virtues of the Typhoon and the F-35 Lightning II. I hope that the Minister will undertake to do that in the months ahead.