Defence Industry

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 20th November 2013.

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Photo of Drew Smith Drew Smith Labour

The announcement two weeks ago of significant job losses was not unexpected, but it remains a major blow, and it is not possible to talk about the issues raised in the motion without thinking of those who are at risk of losing their jobs.

The Clyde unions and management are to be commended for the constructive way in which they are negotiating with each other in the best interests not just of the current workforce but of those who we hope will work there in the future.

There is no better or more forceful advocate for the Clyde than those who work in the yards, and they should be listened to. I appreciate that Government back benchers have been handed their copy of Jamie Webster’s quote, which they have stuck to and dutifully read out during the debate. I do not disagree with Jamie Webster. In the event of a yes vote, of course we would have to get behind the Clyde yards. The problem is that I do not want to get behind them just when they are arguing for something when they are put in a difficult position; I want us to have influence over such things. That is the point that all the other union conveners have made.

Others have said that the crucial issue for the success of the Clyde yards is a healthy order book. In fact, there are two issues: orders and skills. The unions will be making the case for apprentices, who have been a major source of pride for everyone who knows the Clyde yards. It is vital that training continues and that the yards continue to be seen as an attractive career choice for young people from Glasgow and far beyond, because only by maintaining skills and training new apprentices will the yards be able to take advantage of the UK’s policy of procuring UK defence ships within our borders and to build the new orders that I wish to see, among which the most crucial is the order for the type 26 global combat ship.

The extra work on the Queen Elizabeth class, which is to be transferred from Portsmouth, is, as Murdo Fraser said, very welcome, as is the order for offshore patrol vessels. That work can bridge the gap in the period up to an order for the type 26.

The order for the type 26 is the next major order that could and should be placed with the Clyde yards, following those for the aircraft carriers and, before them, the type 45 destroyers. Those ships, the Daring class, are in British service now, and no one who has any interest in Clyde shipbuilding will have failed to have noticed HMS Daring arriving in the Philippines this week, bringing with it much-needed UK aid for the country.

I want to see HMS Daring, HMS Dauntless, HMS Diamond, HMS Dragon, HMS Defender and HMS Duncan, which were all commissioned by the previous Labour Government, joined by a new class of Clyde-built frigates that can play their role in the defence of the United Kingdom and in projecting British influence at sea—ships that Glasgow would be proud of.

BAE Systems has made clear that its preference is to build those UK defence ships in Glasgow. Therefore, the single biggest threat to that order coming to Scotstoun and Govan is the loss of the yards’ status as domestic UK shipbuilders. As others have mentioned, UK yards are able to compete for the work under article 346 rules, which assist the UK to place orders for UK defence ships in the UK.

I listened with interest to what Annabelle Ewing said about article 346. The provision exists so that Governments can make decisions in their own interests as member states. She rightly said that a country must be a member state to benefit from the article.