Defence Spending in Scotland — [Joan Ryan in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:00 pm, 6th February 2019

I support that investment in RAF Lossiemouth. It was argued for by the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, as I am sure he would agree, and I think we both agree that we want defence spending in Scotland. Later on in the debate, we may come to the actual figures, which I look forward to discussing and debating with him.

I cannot allow the debate to go by without referring to the letter that the procurement Minister received yesterday from the Chair of the House of Commons Defence Committee, regarding the fleet solid support ships. Many Members across the House are concerned about the Government having advised them that those are not warships. In the light of the parliamentary answers that many of us—myself included—have received about the combatants and the weaponry on those ships, I really do not understand the argument that they are not warships. I take the view that if it looks like a warship and acts like a warship, it is fair to call it a warship.

I commend to Members a blog from the Save the Royal Navy website, which makes clear its support for the letter from Chair of the Defence Committee to the Minister, who may wish to remark on that. My view, which is well known, as I am sure he will agree, is that the fleet solid support ships should be built in the UK. There are enough shipyards across the UK, including in Scotland, that could block-build those ships. If the Aircraft Carrier Alliance can block-build, the fleet solid support ships should be block-built using the same model.

I have many family ties to the defence industry. One of the employers that I will mention today is Thales, which used to trade as Barr and Stroud. Today is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death; he was employed by Barr and Stroud, where he met my grandmother, and they were married for 61 and a half years, so there are clear family ties to that employer. It was based in Anniesland in the city, but has moved to Govan, the former site of the Stephen shipyard—that is a different spelling and no relation—which is famous because Billy Connolly is a former employee. I have family ties and a real connection to the defence industry in Glasgow.

It is important, as the hon. Member for Moray outlined, that Government spending helps to support and promote prosperity across these islands. Ministry of Defence spending has the potential both to have a positive impact on Scotland’s economy and employment, and to help to balance the export deficit. I want to see the Government give a vote of confidence to manufacturing and engineering skills in Scotland by investing the defence pound in Scotland, and by encouraging foreign companies that are looking to maximise UK content to do the same.

At present, the lion’s share of MOD industry spending on Scottish industry goes, quite rightly, to shipbuilding and repairs. As one of the vice-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on shipbuilding and ship repair, I have no particular problem with that, although I hope that in future, the Ministry of Defence will look at how it can help the shipyards become more efficient. When BBC journalists looked for a frigate factory that a former Secretary of State for Defence insisted was on the Clyde, they found only rubble and ash.

While the shipbuilding industry must be supported—far be it from me to argue against that—I want to look at defence spending elsewhere. As the Minister knows, the Ministry of Defence is currently procuring key new land platforms, including the multi-role vehicle protected—MRVP—and the mechanised infantry vehicle, the MIV. That will be a significant spend, and the platforms will be vital to delivering the Army’s strike brigades, which are part of the backbone of its new structure.

The latest available figures on Ministry of Defence spending in Scotland show that in 2017-18, MOD expenditure in Scotland was £300 per capita. Scotland has had an increase in expenditure within UK industry, but of all the nations and regions of the UK, Scotland finds itself with the fourth-highest spend. As someone who watches Scottish football—the hon. Member for Moray will appreciate these comments—I know that a team who finish fourth are not currently guaranteed a UEFA place. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that figure.

In fact, spending in Scotland was less than half of the spending in the south-east and south-west of England—two regions that account for over half of MOD expenditure within UK industry. Approximately 10,000 jobs in Scotland were supported through MOD expenditure in 2017-18. A recent parliamentary question revealed that of the £1.59 billion that the MOD spent within Scottish industry, over £900 million was spent on shipbuilding and repair. It is important that no area becomes too reliant on a single industry.