Back Bench Business - BAE

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Davis and Alan Johnson on securing this debate.

In the South Ribble area, 15% of the residents who work in manufacturing work for BAE. BAE’s presence in Lancashire is vital to the local and regional economy. The motion is about preserving the UK’s production and skills base, and there is no larger manufacturing employer in the UK than BAE Systems. BAE is important to Lancashire not only because of its size as an employer, but because of the nature of the work force, who are predominantly highly skilled workers. Some 45% of BAE’s UK work force are based in the north-west, making it by far the most important region to the company. In turn, the company is the most important manufacturing base in the region. BAE provides one in eight of the knowledge-intensive jobs in the north-west. The Warton site alone added £300 million to the regional economy in 2009.

Sadly, jobs are at risk as BAE Systems responds to changes in key programmes, most notably the slowdown of the production of the Typhoon and slower than anticipated rates of production of the F-35 joint strike fighter, and to pressures on defence budgets globally. It is essential that we all take every step necessary to support employees whose jobs are at risk, UK aero-defence manufacturing, and BAE in Lancashire.

I want to reassure my constituents that I will back them, BAE, the supply chain and subcontractors to grow the manufacturing base in Lancashire. I am proud that my constituency and the north-west have some of the most highly skilled workers in the country. We must do everything that we can to ensure that, where possible, workers who do not retain their jobs at BAE as a result

of this consultation remain employed in the defence manufacturing sector, for example at Rolls-Royce or Airbus.

South Ribble needs BAE to remain competitive. I urge the Government to continue to do all that they can to support it and to ensure that it wins future business. I want to see that business carried out in Lancashire. Exports are essential. In 2009, the defence sector delivered more than £7 billion in UK exports, with £4.9 billion of that attributed to BAE alone. The Government are backing BAE and Lancashire in promoting the Warton-built Typhoon in foreign markets to help the region retain its defence industrial skills base.

Typhoon has had the opportunity to increase its worldwide demand with its prominent role in Libya, when it was said that

“Typhoon has truly come of age.”

After its performance in conflicts in Libya, where it flew about 3,000 operational hours and reported a 99% success rate against fixed targets and a 98% success rate against mobile targets, the Typhoon is now the leading contender in the two-horse race to win a deal to supply the Indian air force—a deal worth $20 billion. Securing that deal and other export possibilities, such as to Japan, Malaysia and Qatar, would secure BAE’s position as the UK’s premier defence and security company and its largest manufacturing employer for many years to come. To ensure that the Typhoon continues to be competitive in the export market in the long term, I would like to see continued Typhoon development, including into e-scan radar capability.

BAE has made a strategic decision to base its centre of excellence in Lancashire. Should BAE be successful in winning those contracts, the Typhoons will be built in Lancashire. On behalf of my constituents who work at BAE, I encourage the Minister to continue to rigorously promote the case for Typhoon overseas in any way possible.

BAE Systems has invested considerable resources in an unmanned combat air system development programme. I was fortunate to be invited to the first viewing in July last year of the UCAS demonstrator, Taranis, which receives joint investment from the Ministry of Defence and the industry. Unmanned air systems are vital to maintaining a comprehensive military aerospace design and build capability in the UK. It is necessary to sustain these industrial skills in Lancashire for the continued safe operation of the Tornado and Typhoon fleets that are in service. I would like to see another UCAS demonstrator programme, following on from Taranis.

I want to see the highly skilled pupils in Lancashire’s schools today become the highly skilled workers in Lancashire of tomorrow.