Combat Air Strategy — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:59 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 1:59 pm, 27th June 2019

As ever, Mr Stringer, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. It is an honour to have worked with Robert Courts on this issue for what is now a significant period of time. As an Opposition Back Bencher, there are very few opportunities to make a real difference or change Government policy. One of my most confusing moments as a Member of Parliament was when the former Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, gave me credit for the change in policy—so I will now be taking credit for everything that everybody is doing on the issue.

I alert the House to my registered interests; I have the great honour to be the GMB lead in manufacturing. I must also apologise for the fact that, since business is quite interesting in this place at the moment, I have managed to get into the bizarre position of co-sponsoring debates in this Chamber and the main Chamber at exactly the same time. You have kindly given me permission, Mr Stringer, to go between the two debates as the afternoon progresses, so I will be going from combat air strategy to child food poverty in an easy step from one room to the next.

I welcome those who are watching from the Gallery—not least the Unite reps from Brough, who have travelled quite far to hear about the future of their sector, about what we care about and about what we are doing to fight for them. It is a great thing for us all to meet skilled men and women who deliver day in, day out, contributing in different ways to our national security—it is something I love to do. I have had the pleasure of visiting the team at Brough and other BAE sites to see how it works.

We asked for a defence aerospace industrial strategy at the beginning because it has several different components for Members from all parties, ranging from our national security to our sovereign skills and the wider defence family. We can forget that the reason for our sovereign skills capability in the sector is our own national security. It is about the men and women who come together at times of national crisis to develop the capabilities that our armed service personnel need to protect us. It is never, ever just about the platforms; it must always be about the people who design them, make them and use them to keep British citizens safe. We need to look at our defence industrial strategy in the round, so we should be talking about our defence family, not just our military family or the defence manufacturers.

What have we achieved so far? What have I achieved so far? Some 1,000 people are currently working on Tempest. We must not underestimate the fact that none of them was doing this two years ago. We came to this House and said that a new fast jet takes 30 years from conception to build. This Government did a wonderful thing in appreciating that as soon as we have commissioned and bought one platform, we need to consider the next.