Combat Air Strategy — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:05 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 3:05 pm, 27th June 2019

I completely take that point, but, as I say, I have seen a greater number of females in the industry. There are not enough, and I accept that there is more to be done, but I do get a sense that things are going in the right direction. However, we should never be complacent, and the hon. Lady makes a valid point. It is something I continue to press with industry.

Ruth Smeeth is not here, but I was quite amused by the fact that she was mistaken for Rachel Reeves. When I was first elected to this House, I was constantly mistaken for my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson. In fact, he sent me a text message once to say, “Thank you for doing such a brilliant speech for me on HS2 yesterday”, because he got the credit for it. So I know that such mistakes can happen.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North pointed out that we have representatives from Brough here today, who have been brilliant advocates of the work that they do in the factories there. I am acutely aware of the issues that they face and the uncertainty for the people who work there. I hope that I have demonstrated my commitment to try to get the exports to Kuwait. I have been there on a couple of occasions and have met them here. I constantly meet BAE Systems to talk about the programme and will continue to do so because the matter is of great concern to them.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North also pointed out that the issue is not only about platforms and that we should also talk about the skills, designers and engineers that we need and can really help us. She talked about the four national players currently in the Tempest and what the SME involvement is. Again, I am absolutely passionate that the SME involvement needs to be extensive. I was pleased to open a conference where about 150 SMEs came along to learn about the opportunities and what we are looking for. Since then, the conversations with at least 100 of the SMEs has continued.

Just this week, I chaired a meeting with the four national players and MOD representatives; I pushed the point that we need to make sure that we get the very best out of those SMEs. From what I can see, that is where a lot of the exciting technology and development is happening, and they can sometimes be more responsive in delivering the technology that we need for the platform. I assure her that I will continue to make that point in any meeting that I have.

My hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan talked about the national shipbuilding strategy and how we learn lessons from that. There has been some controversy about it and I have had some challenging debates and sessions in front of the Select Committee, but I also had a good meeting with the representatives of the all-party parliamentary group for shipbuilding and ship repair. There is a lot in its report that we can examine and transfer into the strategy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East rightly talked about the leadership election and the opportunities it presents. I welcome the debate on defence spending. Even before I was in this position, I believed that defence spending needed to increase and be appropriate to the risk that we face. At the end of the day, the first duty of any Government of this country is to protect the nation and our people. I will certainly encourage both candidates to increase the funding. I want to see that.

I was concerned to hear my right hon. Friend mention that some say that we should lower our expenditure and expectations; he will be glad to know that I have not heard that in the Department. If I did, I suppose I would coin the phrase, “No, no, no.”

My hon. Friend Mark Menzies secured a debate not long ago on a similar topic and I know how important it is to his constituents—that was one of the first visits I did in this position. He rightly talked about the Treasury models and I look forward to him lobbying Treasury Ministers. He also said, as did other hon. Members, that the strategy is not just about a new platform in Tempest, but about keeping Typhoon current and upgrading and modernising it throughout its life, so there is an easy transition into Tempest, or whatever that may be. That is at the heart of the strategy to ensure that we are maximising those opportunities.

Carol Monaghan was absolutely right that the comprehensive spending review will be significant. The Department is already preparing for that to make the point that we need the funding that we have been talking about. She also talked about European partners and concern about what leaving the European Union might mean. I gently point out that a lot of our collaboration with our European neighbours happens bilaterally or through NATO. I see no reason why our leaving the European Union would bring an end to that collaboration. We will continue to do it through NATO and bilaterally, and we will look to partner nations across the globe to ensure that we continue to maximise it.

Fabian Hamilton is indeed my constituent and I am happy to represent him in this House—I am sure he is not so happy about that.