On 16th November Kevan took part in a debate on the importance of the defence and aerospace sectors to the UK economy, held by the Labour MP Ruth Smeeth.
Kevan’s speech in full:
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing this debate. She has outlined the importance of this industry to the UK economy. The crisis that we face is of the Government’s making. In 2010, they came into office and took great capability out, scrapping elements such as Nimrod. Then, in the strategic defence and security review two years ago, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, tried to put in place a more ambitious programme of development, including the P8 purchase, more unmanned aerial vehicles and the attack helicopter.
The interesting point is that there was no extra money for that programme. It was going to be paid for by efficiencies and property sales. According to the National Audit Office report, the shopping list came to £24.4 billion, and the only extra money was £6.4 billion, which was earmarked to accelerate the in-service date of the F-35. That left the need for £7.3 billion from efficiencies and £10.7 billion from land sales, neither of which have been met. By 2020, £310 million will be met through staff efficiencies, but the drawdown from Germany—which many of us said would cost us—is going to cost £1 billion. This black hole in the equipment programme is of the Government’s own making.
Added to that are some ridiculously stupid procurement decisions that have been made in the past couple of years. In the light of Brexit and the plummeting pound, the procurement of the P8 and the Apache will add to the costs. The Minister intervened earlier to announce the importance of orders that had been placed with Airbus. Why did she not give that contract for the P8 to a British company? Boeing has made lots of promises about investing in this country, but I can tell her now that if that had been the other way round, with the US buying a British product, it would not have been done without a clear commitment to a workshare taking place in the USA. We have only to look at the AirTanker contract to see the muscle involved and the way in which it protects jobs in America first, rather than those overseas. The Government are actually adding to the problem.
The simple question is: do the Government want strategic capability for fast jets and certain other sectors? If they do, they are going to have to pay for that. In regard to the Hawk, there is a clear danger that we will be unable to provide fast jet trainers in this country. It used to be an annual thing when I was a Defence Minister for tabloids and Tory MPs to say that the Labour Government were going to scrap the Red Arrows. We never were, but under this Government, there is a danger that that is exactly what will happen if those orders do not come forward. This short-sighted Government are making lots of promises about equipment, but in practice, those promises are not being funded. The problem facing our industry is that, once we get rid of those skills, we cannot turn them back on again like a tap when we require them. We will be out of this industry for good. If we then wanted a Red Arrows display team in the future, it would have to have aircraft from Korea, France or Italy. That would be a damning indictment of this Government.
To read the rest of the debate in full please click the following link: