Combat Air Strategy — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 3:29 pm, 27th June 2019

I thank the Minister for his full and comprehensive answer. One of the things I love about debates such as this is that no matter how much I rack my brain to try to cover every point, I never do. Every hon. Member brings to the table something new and interesting that I have not managed to cover, and I always learn something. I am very grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part, and to the Minister for his response.

I echo the words of Ruth Smeeth, who said that the Government have done a wonderful thing. The spirt of our remarks is of celebration and—I hope the Minister will forgive me—gently pushing for a bit more. That is where the enthusiasm takes over. The Government did a wonderful thing in listening to a debate secured by Back Benchers from both sides of the House, responding to it and producing a detailed plan, which, as the Minister said, has led to the employment of 1,000 people in new jobs, rising to 1,800 by the end of the year. It has created something from nothing, and that is a great example of the Government listening to Parliament. I thank the Minister, the Department and everybody who has worked very hard on it for all their work.

That does not mean that we will not keep pushing for more; I make no such promise. I ask that the Minister consider some of the broader issues that we have mentioned today, particularly those relating to the broader defence industrial strategy. We are talking about a platform, vital though it is. The Minister is right about the vision that it gives us for the future, but perhaps it should be wider.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North for emphasising that SMEs must be deeply embedded in the strategy, and to my hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan for rightly mentioning the historical context. We must consider whether we will be fighting as part of a NATO alliance with allies, or whether we will be fighting alone. We always hope that we will be fighting with allies in a NATO context but the Falklands is the obvious example of a time when we were not, for a reason we could not foresee. If history teaches us one thing, it is that whatever comes around the corner probably will not be the thing that we are expecting. My hon. Friend was right to point that out.

My hon. Friend was also right to talk about space, which we have not dealt with, but with which the Royal Air Force and the Ministry of Defence are increasingly engaged. It is of increasing importance.

I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for rightly raising the issue of whether we should have a manned platform or not. My personal view is that we are not quite there yet, for a number of reasons. For issues of morality and accountably, people are probably not quite ready for us to take men and women out of platforms altogether. There are also questions about technology: who we work with and whether we can afford to allow that high level of technology out of the country. We are not quite there yet, but she is quite right that that will be more and more important. I think she said that we should not put all our effort into that. I think the Minister will agree that Tempest includes an unmanned element—it is an airframe that can be flown manned or unmanned—and I believe that the Minister and the combat air strategy are correct in taking that approach.

I am always humbled to speak in the presence of the Chair of the Defence Committee. He is right to argue, as he always does, for the financial base. I think his target is 2.5%—