20 November 2013

S4M-08348 Defence Industry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08348, in the name of Johann Lamont, on the future of the defence industry in Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Members might be rather sceptical about the idea, but there has been substantial consensus on some important things in the debate. The Labour motion mentions the skills of people in Scotland who are employed in the defence industries, and that aspect has attracted unanimity across the chamber. We have spoken about the need to consider diversification, and a recognition has been shared in speeches from across the chamber that relying simply and forever on defence alone is unlikely to be good enough.

Many of the issues that we are debating today are very far from new. I refer in particular to a decision that the UK Cabinet made on 19 May 1920 in relation to diversification in the defence industry. The Cabinet gave the Government’s own Woolwich arsenal permission to take on private work, because the defence industry was no longer sufficient to keep employment there at its previous level. The Government paid off 1,500 workers—which might sound familiar—and it sought to diversify the factories concerned.

We have heard references to sovereign capability, specifically by Willie Rennie and indirectly, albeit without using those words, by Murdo Fraser, as well as by Michael McMahon. Let us examine the reality of the record. I start with the Fairey Rotodyne, which was an innovative UK project to build new vertical take-off bulk-carrying transport. Ultimately, that project was cancelled in 1962 by the UK Government. What did it buy instead? It bought Boeing Chinooks.

Willie Rennie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I have lots more. I might come to Willie Rennie later.

Those Chinooks were to be deployed on the front line. Willie Rennie spoke about fixed-wing aircraft, and I will come to those as well, so he need not worry.

The Blue Streak missile was to be the missile to carry the independent nuclear deterrent for the UK. That proved to be unsupported by the Government of the day, and we now buy the missiles—rather, we lease them—from the United States, and we are not allowed to launch them against anyone without getting the codes enabling us to do so on each specific occasion. Sovereign capability? I doubt it.

Let me also mention the TSR-2, a fixed-wing aircraft that led the way in technology and capability. Once again, it was cancelled in the 1960s by the UK Government, which sought to buy American F-111s instead—although ultimately, of course, that is not what it bought. Incidentally, until it fell out of use 10 years ago, the F-111 had the unenviable nickname of “The Widowmaker”, which it had been given by the Luftwaffe and the United States air force. That was the aircraft that the UK Government wished to operate.

Finally, of course, there is the Harrier jump-jet, which was a gem and a piece of leading edge technology. It is no longer manufactured here but is bought from elsewhere by the UK Government.

Willie Rennie: Mr Stevenson might be educating us about various items of equipment, but I have to point out that no one has ever said that all equipment must be bought in-country. The Labour Government’s defence industry strategy and the defence and security policy that has been developed under the current UK Government have determined what the sovereign capability is, and it is the four areas that I identified in my speech.

Does the member not recognise that no British complex warships have been built outside the UK since the second world war?

Stewart Stevenson: I invite the member to examine the Official Report after the debate because he will find that he very specifically linked sovereign capability to fixed-wing aircraft such as the TSR-2, the Harrier GR5A and so on. It is absolutely clear that sovereign capability does not determine the purchasing decisions of the MOD and the UK Government; it all comes down to the best place to get the best equipment, and Scotland will remain the best place to get much of the equipment that the UK Government and indeed Scotland will require in future.

The Scottish defence industry is a feisty industry full of feisty people. We have heard quotes from a wide range of them, including the MOD itself and the workers whose voices must be heard in this debate. Those people have skills; indeed, I find it interesting that Michael McMahon chose to talk about Motherwell Bridge and how in a short space of time after it was closed down the same skills dissipated and could not be reconstituted. My friends in Portsmouth know that all too well in advance of the same fate being visited upon them. They certainly will not be in the same place that Scotland will be, whether under independence or not, to support the orders that there are.

Whatever the result of the referendum, I will support everyone on the Clyde—and everyone else must do likewise.


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